A tourism professional new to the Wimmera is seeking to help small businesses across the region make the most of the popularity of the Silo Art Trail and Murtoa's Stick Shed.
Lauren McBriarty, an executive officer with Wimmera-Mallee Tourism, says workshops, streetscaping and upgrades to caravan parks will be taking place across the next few months.
"We're planning to help small businesses in the hospitality and accommodation sectors to leverage off the tourists coming to see the trail, essentially increasing their customer service and business skills," she said.
"Basically making them a bit more friendly towards tourists, having better opening hours and staff training and helping them to understand how their business impacts the local economy.
"As an example, Wellington's Butchers and Cafe in Hopetoun is doing all the right things for a small-town business. They have changed their opening hours and started offering a better variety of foods, and they're really thriving at the moment."
The art trail currently comprises of six enormous murals painted on decommissioned grain silos across the Yarriambiack Shire since 2015, at Brim, Sheep Hills, Rupanyup, Patchewollock, Rosebery and Lascelles.
Ms McBriarty said the organisation would also encourage businesses to work together to pay for advertising in caravaning and motoring magazines, to market the region nationwide.
She said she hoped young people in the region's towns could be recruited as new employees.
"Using them after hours to provide waitressing and cooking skills will increase the local economy as well as giving visitors more options in terms of dinner," she said.
"We also plan to get an external consultant in to look at 24 caravan parks across the region, to determine what needs to be done to make them more caravan-friendly. Do we need more powered sites, earthworks, roadworks, sewerage? Grey nomads are our biggest target market and they all have caravans."
Ms McBriarty said an external consultant would also look at the layout of towns in the Yarriambiack, Hindmarsh, West Wimmera and Buloke Shires.
"It's about making more use of the natural attractions and upgrading the buildings. The plan is for the consultant to advise us on what needs to be done to make the towns more livable," she said.
"This definitely impacts residents as well as the tourists. It means we'll know what do and what to expect instead of jumping on random projects. Yarriambiack Shire Council is providing some of the funding, but basically they're there to support Wimmera-Mallee Tourism."
Ms McBriarty said stage two of the project involved digital innovation.
"Everyone knows about the silos, but we have a website based of digital mapping that will go live in October which will allow them to plan their travels across the region a bit more," she said.
The website will house digital itineraries, podcasts and videos of the Wimmera Mallee region from a tourism perspective. While the app will house six lots of augmented reality sound clips, one for each of the painted silos. The clips will focus on topics including: living in rural areas; sport uniting communities; gender diversity in the agricultural industry and how tourism is helping the small towns.
"The aim is to increase awareness of what the region has to offer to locals and tourists, and acknowledge the historical and cultural importance of the region," Ms McBriarty said.
Ms McBriarty began working in Warracknabeal in February, when Yarriambiack Shire Council received more than $500,000 from the federal government's Building Better Regions Fund to bring these measures to the region.
She previously worked as a business development officer for Tourism Central Australia in Alice Springs, where she helped to develop strategies including a hop-on-hop-off bus for tourist attractions in the red centre.
Dion Woods, manager of Warracknabeal's Cafe Peppercorn, said while he hoped for the business to grow, the cost of wages made it hard.
"We have been asked by the community if we'd open on a Sunday, but the amount of traffic we get just doesn't really warrant us opening at those times," he said.
"We already have a number of junior staff we employ after school hours and on Saturdays, but we have to have senior staff working with them at all times, so we'd really be paying two or three people to open that extra day."
Mr Woods said the store opened 7.30am to 5pm weekdays and 8am until 1pm on Saturdays.
He said he was in the middle of constructing a new toilet block to free up more space for seating inside.
He said Wimmera Mallee Tourism helping to finance advertising campaigns for the region would be a big help for businesses like his.
Max Golder, President of Brim Lions Club, said the town needed the Commercial Hotel to reopen more than anything else.
"The number of tourists has not increased in last 12 months, rather it's stayed fairly static," he said.
"Unfortunately the hotel closed around Easter last year. The CRT general store and cafe opened 18 months ago and has been providing coffee and lunches provided which has sort of helped, but it's bit disappointing: Probably more people would stay in town if it were open."
The Lions Club runs Brim's caravan park. Mr Golder said he didn't think any businesses in town could provide any more to tourists than what they did already.
"It would be handy to have a tavern if the pub can't come back, but it costs lot of money to get it going, and I don't know where you would get the returns, given there are places to drink in Warracknabeal, Beulah, Hopetoun and Patchewollock."
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