GRAMPIANS businesses are frustrated with a decline in visitor numbers due to smoke in the region from bushfires across Australia.
Businesses say they have lost thousands of dollars with a spike in booking cancellations and a lack of future bookings, particularly from the international market.
Grampians Wine Tours and Helicopters owner Justine Hide said the impact had been sudden, with her company having lost more than $10,000 in bookings since late December.
"Between Christmas and New Years Eve we saw a decrease in bookings in what would normally be a busy time for us. Since January it's been extremely quiet," she said.
Ms Hide said the helicopter had not been up for two weeks due to the smoke from bushfires burning in other parts of the country that had drifted into the region.
"That's the longest time we haven't flown since we opened the business four years ago," she said.
Ms Hide said the business gave full refunds for trips cancelled due to adverse weather conditions but this was more common in winter, so the loss had hit them hard.
"I haven't met anybody who said they haven't had a drop in bookings, with many saying they were 30 to 50 per cent down compared to the same time last year," she said.
Ms Hide said more needed to be done by political bodies to assist people indirectly affected by the fires.
"We need to encourage international visitors to stop cancelling their trips to Australia," she said.
"We also need more locals to come out and support businesses in their area. It doesn't have to be a helicopter ride, it could be just going for a bushwalk in the Grampians or getting an ice cream in Halls Gap."
Halls Gap Zoo owners Greg and Yvonne Culell said they had experience a drop of 30 per cent in entry numbers for the first few weeks after Christmas due to heat and coverage of bushfires in the media.
"But with the cooler weather and less hysteria in the media things have picked up since," Mr Cullell said.
He said the zoo had experienced an unprecedented amount of inquiries about whether it was safe to visit.
"As a sign of the concern and confusion over the messaging about the fires by the general public we have had at least 100 calls from people asking whether we were affected and whether they should cancel their visit. This is even though the fires are 500 kilometres away from us," he said.
"We have never had anywhere near this amount of direct contact before, even in summers when we actually had fires in the Grampians."
Mr Cullell said while the worst of the fires were in the east, the zoo were grateful for the efforts of firefighters in controlling fires in the Grampians.
"Halls Gap Zoo greatly appreciates the tremendous work done by our local fires services in putting out the fires that started in the Grampians after the dry thunderstorm," he said.
A Northern Grampians Shire Council spokeswoman said council was working with Grampians Tourism and Visit Victoria on solutions to address the decline in visitor numbers.
"The impacts of the fires on domestic and international travel have not gone unnoticed and NGSC has partnered with Grampians Tourism on a number of initiatives including digital tactics and consumer e-news," the spokeswoman said.
"Grampians Tourism is also working closely with Visit Victoria on strategic and tactical marketing to educate the consumer that the Grampians Region is unaffected and open for business."
Victoria Tourism Industry Council chief executive Felicia Mariani said ongoing support was needed to ensure the impacts on visitor numbers and spend due to bushfires were minimised, including for areas indirectly affected by the disaster.
"There has been significant damage to Victoria's reputation as a travel destination, with operators across the state seeing a substantial downturn in visitation and forward bookings," she said.
"We've had countless members in non-fire-affected areas telling us they're impacted by cancellations and no bookings in what is meant to be their peak season.
"The perception is Victoria is closed for business and we need a cohesive industry approach to combat this myth.
"Because regional tourism intersects so many areas within the responsibility of government - industry and regional development, employment, small business, transport, infrastructure, the environment and education and training - it is crucial there is a whole of government response to ensure tourism operators are supported and Victoria is still on people's 'to-do lists.'
"VTIC will continue to advocate on behalf of the sector to ensure assistance is provided. We are getting out into the regions and talking to our members and industry to hear first-hand how they have been affected and what they need to rebuild and recover."
VTIC and Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have established a 12 month, $500,000 support package to assist Victorian businesses affected by the bushfires.
All services under this package will be provided at no cost to any business in a Victorian natural disaster declared area.
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