GIPPSLAND'S regional tourism board, Destination Gippsland, has assured Wellington Shire businesses that promotional campaigns to bring tourists back to the region are focussing on a "whole of Gippsland" approach.
Local tourism and retail businesses are feeling the economic pinch of the bushfire crisis, as road closures and travel warnings rob many of the holiday trade they rely on.
Some in Wellington Shire say they now face imminent closure - a move that could put more pressure on the municipality's smaller tourist towns.
On Monday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Tourism, Sport and Major Events Minister Martin Pakula announced an immediate injection of $200,000 for Destination Gippsland to ramp up tourism response activities.
The state government also vowed to help revitalise bushfire-affected communities by bringing sport and big business to the heart of Victoria's bushfire-affected regions.
Destination Gippsland chief executive Terry Robinson said the tourism body was already working on a campaign in Melbourne to promote Gippsland.
The funding announcement would allow destination Gippsland to "redirect team resources" and make things happen faster, he said.
"When it comes to reinvigorating Gippsland, the quicker the better.
"We know there has been a knock-on effect to all businesses in this region, so any campaigns we are doing reflect this."
Mr Robinson said the board's key message was to re-engage with the whole of Gippsland.
"While our main focus is on east Gippsland where fires have caused the greatest impact, our marketing and key messages are for the benefit of all business in Gippsland," he said.
Ray Wathall from Ray and Brenda's Photography and Giftware in Stratford said he was disappointed that the focus of government assistance so far had been on east Gippsland, because businesses throughout Gippsland were experiencing a drastic drop in trade.
He said increasing tourism and encouraging shoppers and day-trippers to spend their dollars in small towns all over Gippsland would "keep the doors open".
"I've spoken to many businesses in Stratford, and even further away in Maffra and Bairnsdale, and they are all struggling because of the reduced visitation," he said.
"Many of them fear they will have to close if things don't improve pretty quickly, and that includes my business."
Kim Babuc, who has owned Stratford's popular Turkish wares shop Turkish Magic with her husband Adem for 15 years, said she had a loyal customer base of visitors from Melbourne and interstate, but trade was down by up to 50 per cent as travellers avoided the region.
"We are just not getting the traffic flow we normally would get, so it's been a very disappointing season," she said.
Stratford Caravan Park manager Louise Perrett said traffic along the normally busy Sydney-Melbourne route traditionally sustained businesses during the holiday periods, with vehicles heading further east using the town and its shops as a midway rest break.
But she said most accommodation services were being crippled by the loss of trade, prompting the Victorian Caravan Park Association to call on the state government to help.
Mr Robinson encouraged businesses to look at Destination Gippsland's website to see what assistance was available.
He said all Gippsland businesses were now eligible for a waiver of the $300 fee to list on the Destination Gippsland website, which would essentially link them with other promotional activities.
Another strategy to reduce the impact of lost trade was to encourage visitors to use a "book now, travel later" system.
Many businesses in the shire are now pinning their hopes on tourists and shoppers coming back to the region during the Australia Day weekend this weekend and at Easter to kick-start the economic recovery they desperately need.
A financial support line has been set up to support businesses affected by the bushfires.
People should phone 13 28 46 for assistance.
The National Bushfire Recovery Agency has also launched a new website.
Check bushfirerecovery.gov.au for information about the national response, including bushfire payments, relief and key contacts.