The iconic Wimmera Silo Art Trail is set to be enjoyed in a revolutionary new way thanks to the work of two western district entrepreneurs.
Storytowns, a free geo-located podcast touring app, has produced a series of interviews with residents, artists and historians to showcase the trail to travellers.
Produced by Hamilton-based podcast professional Jarrod Pickford and Casterton media powerhouse Emily Edge, the innovative podcast series is poised to attract thousands of visitors to the region in a safe, socially-distanced manner.
Mr Pickford said the new series would appeal to all demographics of visitors.
"We wanted to give visitors the backstory to each silo art project," he said.
"Through Storytowns, we can connect people with the communities they are visiting.
"It might be the local cafe owner, the artist, or maybe a hidden gem a frequent visitor didn't know existed.
"It is an immersive experience."
No stranger to podcasts and radio, Mr Pickford boasts a resumé with references to Alice Cooper, NovaFm duo Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek, as well as Kyle and Jackie' O.
He travelled the world producing podcasts in Daylesford, America and the UK, before establishing Storytowns in 2019.
Minyip identity Dale Mags, who featured in the podcast series, said the venture is an excellent idea.
"It's good to be part of the story," he said.
"I've had a look at our neighbours' podcasts, and it's all great.
"When it is all put together it is like threading a necklace of pearls - it's just awesome."
Wimmera Mallee Tourism executive officer Lauren McBriarty, who commissioned the podcast series, said she was keen to see more tourists flock to the region when safe to do so.
"The Wimmera Mallee Tourism (WMT) has experienced a rapid growth in visitor numbers as the Silo Art Trail has grown in popularity," she said.
"Before the pandemic, the silos received about half a million visitors each year and generated about $300,000 in income.
"To better service the visitors, the WMT board are developing projects that will improve the physical and digital infrastructure across the region, including the development of the Story Towns Silo Art Trail Podcast.
"It will have a collection of short stories and interviews with locals from the small towns across the regions to enhance the visitor experience of persons travelling the Wimmera Mallee Silo Art Trail.
"The podcast series is so accessible throughout the whole region.
"We anticipate a jump in tourism later this year."
Ms McBriarty said the app and subsequent tourism campaign aims to attract domestic tourists from regional centres such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Warrnambool.
Scheduled to become available in late-August, Storytowns is free to use and only requires a small amount of data to download each interview.
As a visitor travels to one of the silo art sites, the geo-located app downloads a short interview with an artist, local business owner or iconic resident.
The interview will automatically play, and by the time it has finished, the visitor should be at their destination, enlightened by the new information.
While grey nomads are the most significant tourism demographic (40 per cent), Millennials are emerging as the front runners.
In turn, digital tourism is now the newest frontier businesses and towns are required to conquer if they want to attract Generation Z tourists.
Ms McBriarty said Wimmera Mallee Tourism is on the front foot in the bid to attract the youngest generation.
"Last August, our new website (www.visitwimmeramallee.com.au) was released as well as our Augmented Reality App called 'Wimmera Mallee Tourism'," she said.
"These have proven very popular and encouraged younger visitors - that is couples and friends in their 20's - to visit the region."
Every weekend, a convoy of cars make the 200km trip between Rupanyup and Patchewollock to visit the awe-inspiring silos.
Families, couples and the odd solo traveller hop from town to town to see murals that pay tribute to the Wimmera Malle's past, present and future.
Armed with his trusty DSLR, Ballarat's Steve Lewis and his wife Nora meandered along the western highway to enjoy the picturesque trail.
"I saw part of the trail online and it piqued my interest," he said during a stopover in Rupanyup.
"We decided to take off for the weekend to see the silo trail.
"So far, it has been pleasing to see how the towns are going.
"I love taking pictures, so I bring my trusty camera with me wherever we go."
Like most tourists, the accountant took his time during his stopover, perusing over the Georgia Goodie artwork on Cromie St while sipping a takeaway coffee.
Before the second lockdown, Northcote couple Clint Schipper and Kati Regan took a trip down the Western Highway for two reasons.
"I'm a birder - I'm not as serious as a twitcher - but we've come up here to see some Mallee birds as well as the silos," Mr Schipper said.
"Kati is from Maryland (an eastern state of the United States of America), so we thought this would be an excellent way to explore the region.
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"We loved the Sheep Hills mural - the stars, the sky and the faces are so vivid."
Mr Schipper said exploring the trail with an accompanying app would be a "game changer".
"I think an app would add heaps of value," he said.
"I found out a bit about the tour from the internet, but interviews and stories about the art would be amazing."
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