One of the Wimmera's peak tourism bodies says Horsham eateries should consider extending trade on weekends and offering local produce to take advantage of growing tourist numbers.
Grampians Tourism chief executive Marc Sleeman said the latest figures from Tourism Research Australia showed an 11.7 per cent increase in visitor numbers to the region in the 12 months to December 2018.
"There were 1.1 million domestic tourists into the region over that time and they spent 2.9 million nights here, which is nearly 18 per cent growth," he said.
Mr Sleeman said the 162-kilometre Grampians Peaks Trail, scheduled for completion at the end of 2020, would inject a further 34,000 visitors a year into the region.
"Horsham will be a key partner for visitation to the peak trail, which starts at Mount Zero," he said.
"We already promote Horsham as the gateway for the Silo Art Trail and the Grampians, and business owners can capitalise on the growth by extending their trade on weekends. We see big spikes during weekend periods with visitors and travellers through the region.
"We also see some great opportunities in Horsham becoming a foodie capital of the Wimmera-Southern Mallee. Good wine and food is almost an expectation of tourists now."
Grampians Tourism covers the Horsham, Northern Grampians, Southern Grampians and Ararat municipalities.
A 20-year vision for the city, which council will review on Wednesday, said Horsham's strengths in grains, pulses and livestock made it well-positioned to use food as a tourism driver.
"The most common and popular activity for domestic overnight visitors in regional Victoria is eating out, with 58 per cent participating in the activity," report authors said.
"High-quality dining options such as cafés, a gastronomic pub, provedore, microbrewery or wine bar should be considered for Horsham's Central Activity District and riverfront to provide an anchor attraction and contribute to a vibrant precinct."
What Horsham food businesses say
Head chef and co-owner of Horsham restaurant baa 3400 Hugh Goldson said sourcing local produce was a matter of making the time to connect with farmers and providers.
"Getting the support of locals is massive," he said.
"We use vegetables from Haven grown, meat from Wimmera Super Meat Market and we have chickpeas and lentils on our menus. Some of our customers own these farms so we tend to get our produce from them.
"Our local beer is also made exclusively for us by Don McRae - he has a hobby winery where he makes home brews.
"I don't expect every country town to have somewhere completely different, because it's not viable, but Horsham is a base for a lot of tourists, and they like to know there is somewhere they can eat that offers something different to pub meals."
Mr Goldson and his wife Nicole moved baa 3400 from its location in Horsham Town Hall to Baillie Street in March 2018.
He said having a long-term plan was the most important thing for people wanting to offer unique food experiences in regional cities like Horsham.
"When we came up with the idea we had only been in Horsham for a couple of years, but we knew what we wanted to open as a couple," he said.
"The opportunities we had to expand our business and create avenues like conferences, corporate functions and big dinners we didn't have in the town hall."
Cheeky Fox Cafe co-owner Mick Harris said the lack of chef training options in the Wimmera was an obstacle.
"As a city we just don't attract or have great quality staff to put out what people's expectations are," he said.
"Currently we have to send our would-be apprentices to Ballarat to get their Certificate III in Cookery, which means we are losing chefs for a full day every two weeks. I've sent my third chef down to get trained there over the years.
"We are not utilising the full facilities we have in Horsham like the Wimmera Trade Training Centre."
Mr Harris said he had tried opening the cafe in the evening in the past, but had found people had not gone in significant numbers compared to the city's pubs.
"We are going through a social media revamp so we can attract more people and come out with new menu to keep things modern for all the foodies out there, but we also have to keep things on there people from area want," he said.
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