TOURISM operators are excited but pragmatic after a busy Queen's Birthday long weekend in the Grampians.
Accommodation venues were booked out in Halls Gap as tourists from Melbourne and across the state headed to the region. Now, businesses hope the winter school holidays in two weeks' time see the trend continue.
Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Park owner Josephina McDonald welcomed 400 people at the weekend, in both self-contained cabins and motor homes.
"Everyone was so well-behaved," she said.
"It was all very easy."
Mrs McDonald said it was strange that COVID-19 restrictions allowed for communal toilets at caravan or camp sites to be open, but other communal facilities such as showers and kitchens were closed.
"It's just a bit frustrating," she said.
She's counting down until June 22, when the state government is set to ease restrictions further.
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Mrs McDonald said she was fully booked out well ahead of the long weekend.
She worked hard to prepare for the influx of visitors.
"I had anxiety over it at the start," she said.
"It took me a few days to get my head around it."
But she said everything worked out in the end.
Now, Mrs McDonald is preparing for the school holidays after an "explosive" long weekend.
"All of my cabins are pretty much booked," she said. "I'm trying to encourage campers to come out.
"If we can handle a June long weekend, we can handle school holidays."
Halls Gap's Coolas Ice Creamery manager Claire Smith said the business was not quite as busy as previous years.
But she said it was still great to be open.
The ice creamery used its door as a servery to avoid having crowds of people in the store.
Mrs Smith said the move was popular with customers.
"Everyone was really good," she said.
"I think most people were happy to be out and about."
Mrs Smith said she hoped school holidays would be good for the business. But she said without tour groups and school camps in town, customer numbers would remain lower than usual.
Grampians Tourism chief executive Marc Sleeman said restrictions had caused a few headaches for the region's businesses.
He said for many restaurants and cafes, it was the first time they had reopened since restrictions started.
Limited service was a challenge for many.
But Mr Sleeman remains positive about the return to tourism to the area.
"If this weekend is any indication of the future, we're going to be in for a busy school holidays," he said.
Mr Sleeman said the split of visitors seemed to be 50-50 between Melburnians and regional Victorians.
He said many of them were friends and relatives of Wimmera people.
"It's a really good mix. We're back on track for strong visitor numbers," he said.
However, Mr Sleeman said it would take a few years before tourism fully returned to normal levels.
For now, Grampians Tourism is focused on helping businesses recover from the COVID-19 restrictions.
Mr Sleeman said the group was collaborating with Visit Victoria and local government partners to do what it could to encourage more people back to the region.
"We're making sure we're seeing businesses through this recovery stage," he said.
Halls Gap Sergeant Karen Bain said the town was thriving at the weekend.
"I've never seen it that busy. There were just people everywhere," she said.
On Sunday night police helped after a couple of hikers got lost on a Pinnacle trail.
Otherwise, Sergeant Bain said it was a relatively quiet weekend for police.
She said everyone seemed to be following social distancing rules.
Sergeant Bain reminded people to adhere to road rules and to avoid swerving if wildlife was on the road.
"There's a lot of people on the roads and we want them to get home safely," she said.
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