Where in Vic lockdowns hit ‘disproportionately’ hard

The report examining the impact of COVID-19 on tourism in Victoria found visitation to Melbourne’s west shrunk by two-thirds, losing 5.1 million visitors during 2020 and 2021.The study by Victoria University, the Victoria Tourism Industry Council and Western Melbourne Tourism reveals the west lost $2.7 billion in visitor spending compared to 2019, as repeated lockdowns crippled businesses. It found government spending on recovery focused largely on regional Victoria and Melbourne’s CBD, leaving regions like Melbourne’s west more vulnerable.But the fast growing area, including Brimbank, Hobsons Bay, Maribyrnong, Melton, Moonee Valley and Wyndham council zones, can grow back “stronger” with careful planning and fresh ideas.Victoria University school of the visitor economy director Dr Joanne Pyke said it was a wake-up call to look at what had slowed the potential of the west and identify new ways to build a more sustainable tourism sector. “It would be a wasted opportunity to return to a business-as-usual approach once the sector recovers from the aftershocks of the crisis,” she said. “This study highlights the need for government at all levels, businesses, and industry to work together to make Melbourne’s west more resilient in the interests of jobs growth, economic recovery and community wellbeing.’’The “Resilient Enterprises and Sustainable Employment in Tourism” report, funded in part by the state government, said the west was battling the same chronic labour and skills shortages apparent across Australia. There were “substantial opportunities for industry development due to planned transport infrastructure spending in the region and forecast population growth” and a largely untapped potential to promote the west’s multiculturalism through cultural tourism.But the region faces unique challenges including being perceived as an industrial area with fewer things to see and do compared to other areas of Melbourne.“The region faces an image problem: it is perceived as an ‘industrial district’, with minimal shade tree canopy and low aesthetic value,’’ it said.“There is a perceived lack of events, general scarcity of tourism attractions and poorer cultural and entertainment infrastructure compared to other parts of Melbourne. “These perceptions are factors that exacerbate negative stereotypes reducing the motivation to visit of the region. “The lack of built infrastructure (in the form of 4-star accommodation and public transport options in outer suburbs) further lowers destination appeal and accessibility.’’To combat the problem – and help the west “build back better”- Dr Pyke said a destination management plan was needed to brand the west similar to the way the Yarra Valley, Great Ocean Rd and Mornington Peninsula had been marketed.“We need a visitor economy marketing plan so we can tell the story of our industrial, multicultural and first nation’s history,’’ she said. Results of the study, which included a survey of 275 business owners and managers at tourism operations in Melbourne’s west at the end of 2021, could heap more pressure on the Andrews Government which is facing voter backlash in traditionally safe Labor seats at the November election.Treasurer Tim Pallas is among state MP’s facing a fight for his traditionally safe Labor seat of Werribee.

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