FOR the past five years, Justin Neofitou has run an award-winning helicopter business, offering travellers the most majestic views of western Victoria.
But while some regional tourism has returned to areas like The Grampians, Mr Neofitou, who runs Grampians Helicopters, remains firmly stuck on the ground, causing both financial and psychological stress.
"Right now as I'm talking to you, I'm cleaning a motel toilet just so I can make some money to put food on the table," Mr Neofitou said.
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Mr Neofitou said while his business was losing up to $10,000 per weekend, it wasn't just a financial challenge, but also a mental one, to keep trying to stay afloat.
"It's quite disheartening, seeing other businesses up and running, yet we're plainly not allowed to operate," he said.
"It's not just us, it's the same problem facing bus tours, the people who run Great Ocean Road flights, it's a lot of businesses, it's killing small business.
Mr Neofitou's business is classed as an enclosed vehicle, and just like buses hoping to run wine tours, he is also banned from operating.
Yet other vehicles such as boats are classed as open vehicles, which means paddle steamer businesses on the Murray River, can operate.
"The rules have been written by someone who simply has no sense of the industry," he said.
"We're written to everyone we can. We've even offered to take the doors off the helicopter to make it an open and they basically just laughed at us.
"We've been threatened with fines if we want to operate."
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Grampians Tourism chief executive Marc Sleeman said mental health challenges were causing concern all across the region.
He said staff at the tourism bureau had taken part in mental health courses which, not only assisted their own mental wellbeing, but also helped them recognise when people are under emotional stress, which is not always on the surface.
"We've had to pivot a lot this year, it's something a lot of people are faced with," he said.
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