Cancel the bookings

AS tough as it is, tourism bookings for Easter must be refused by local accommodation houses, according to authorities.

Concerns metropolitan tourists could unknowingly carry COVID-19 to regional areas this Easter have surfaced in many of Wellington Shire’s tourist hotspots.

This week, Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull called on all accommodation house operators to “do the right thing” and cancel tourist bookings for Easter.

“It is hard to say this, because we have been pleading for people to come and visit us after the fires and I’ve been at the forefront of that message, but with the coronavirus threat, it has all changed and we simply don’t want metropolitan tourists this Easter,” he said.

“I know businesses are hurting and we generally rely on tourism season to keep our economy ticking over, but the threat is too great,” he said.

Mr Bull said he believed closing roads into the area was not required as this was a matter that could “be handled at this end”.

“If no accommodation house accepts tourist bookings and cancels the ones they have – and camping and caravan parks are closed – there will simply be nowhere for tourists to stay.

“It’s as simple as that.

“The only people who should be in our accommodation houses are essential services workers, or those in exceptional circumstances (eg bushfire victims or those escaping domestic violence).”

Mr Bull said closing access to East Gippsland via road blocks was problematic for several reasons.

“There are over a dozen access routes to be monitored and it will tie up critical police resources in what is a busy period for them, enforcing the various regulations that have come into place,” he said.

“It would also mean every driver of every vehicle would have to be stopped and interrogated and this would cause massive delays for critical freight deliveries, essential services deliveries and essential services workers, etc.

“No rural region of Australia has been cut off as yet for the abovementioned reasons.

“In Victoria alone there are many rural areas (about 33) that have had either zero or one case only.

“What we need to do as a society is to continue to do what we have been doing and band together and do the right thing.

“If we do the hard yards now, we will be better off in the long run.”

Mr Bull sent an email to all business and tourism associations and chambers of commerce in east Gippsland on Friday following the Prime Minister and Premier’s advice to not holiday this Easter.

“It’s a tough call from an economic perspective, but it is the right one.

“People should also bear in mind that for those who undertake non-essential outings there are significant fines for both individuals and businesses.”

Peak tourism body Destination Gippsland echoed Mr Bull’s sentiments, with chief executive Terry Robinson adding Gippslanders needed to take collective responsibility in protecting local communities from the virus by strongly discouraging non-essential travel to Gippsland.

“Accommodation businesses can still take bookings from people with legitimate reasons to travel – for example work or self-isolation – however in the case of holiday-related travel, we advise our industry partners to closely review their forward bookings and negotiate with their clients to travel at a later date,” Mr Robinson said.

“We acknowledge this is a difficult business environment and that turning away Easter-related holiday bookings is a tough decision, however it is the right thing to do for our local communities and health system under these exceptional circumstances.

Destination Gippsland has been active during the COVID-19 crisis, particularly in providing support and information to the thousands of tourism businesses affected.

“There is a lot of information and almost daily announcements about government assistance and programs available,” Mr Robinson said.

“We are trying to simplify this information and provide as much urgent support to the Gippsland tourism industry as possible.

“In addition to helping our local tourism businesses navigate the immediate challenges, we are also working on the long-term recovery for the region.

“We are preparing ‘reactivate’ marketing campaigns, negotiating with event organisers to bring new events to Gippsland in 2021, advocating to government about the financial and policy needs for our industry, developing new training programs and fast-tracking as many of the Destination Management Plan recommendations as possible.

“These are unprecedented times for our industry, and we are working hard to help our region navigate this extremely difficult situation together.”

While Destination Gippsland has stopped promoting travel to the region, it is encouraging potential visitors to dream and plan of future trips when the threat of COVID-19 has gone.

Until it is safe to travel, its focus is to promote Gippsland produce, such as wine, beer, cider and spirits, that can be bought online.

“We have secured a Melbourne freeway billboard and featured local wine makers with the message ‘Gippsland’s finest wines delivered to your door’ and directed people to www.visitgippsland.com.au/wine, where they will find an extensive list of Gippsland wineries,” Mr Robinson said.

“This is a positive way to help our wineries and other small business producers during this most difficult time.”

Last week, Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien said he had raised concerns that people were flocking to their Gippsland holiday homes with the Premier, saying there was alarm in small communities that supplies were drying up in local supermarkets, and regional health system would be inundated should an outbreak occur.

Mayor Alan Hall implored people to stay home, “your normal home – not your holiday home”.

Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday that if Victorians had a normal Easter this long weekend, the hard-won gains to stabilise the spread of COVID-19 would be undone.

“All the progress that we’ve made, that stability that I talked about will evaporate, and we’ll see more and more cases that are preventable, that are avoidable,” he said.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said people should stop seeking loopholes and stay at home so they did not risk spreading the virus to other communities.

“The directives we have issued are very clear – you should be staying at home,” she said.

“You should be cancelling your booking for the Easter weekend. “If you’ve booked an Airbnb you should be staying home in your permanent residence.”

Recreational activities such as fishing, boating and golf, has been banned under social distancing restrictions.

VicEmergency pandemic advice for the entire state has told people to “postpone your Easter holiday plans and stay home”.