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Victoria’s alpine resorts are bracing for a rush of skiers desperate to hit the slopes, but the industry is precariously poised after losing more than $110 million during the latest 12-day COVID-19 lockdown.
The alpine region has recently enjoyed large dumps of snow. However, lifts have remained still and businesses have been closed as Victorians were banned from travelling more than five kilometres from their homes until Wednesday.
Mount Buller has received plenty of snow while Victoria was in lockdown.
Now resort operators are hoping to bounce back. Falls Creek, Mount Hotham and Mount Buller have all reported they were inundated with calls after the state government announced the easing of restrictions.
Under current restrictions, alpine resorts can welcome back visitors but people must take a coronavirus test and return a negative result within 72 hours of making the trip.
The Health Department has confirmed that dormitory accommodation can operate at Victoria’s ski resorts. However, households must book separately and density limits of one person per four square metres apply for shared facilities, including kitchens and bathrooms.
This year’s ski season has already been disrupted by two lockdowns, which came after last year’s season was all but wiped out by the pandemic. In 2020, visitation was down about 90 per cent on the previous year.
Economic modelling commissioned by Tourism North East found alpine businesses lost $112 million during the latest 12-day lockdown period.
“Every time we have restrictions it just places an enormous amount of pressure on businesses,” the group’s chief executive, Bess Nolan-Cook, said.
The tourism chief said alpine resorts created a halo effect for surrounding towns whose economic fortunes were also tied to the skiing industry.
“We know the alpine resorts are enormous contributors to our region.”
Mount Buller is among the alpine resorts preparing for a rush of skiiers but the latest lockdown was damaging for skiing industry.
Mount Buller spokeswoman Rhylla Morgan said weekends were heavily booked during August, leaving weekdays and later in the season for those still wanting to plan a skiing holiday.
She said 124 centimetres of snow had fallen during the lockdown but the mountain was eerily quiet with no visitors. Ms Morgan said alpine businesses desperately wanted to stay open to recoup costs incurred during the pandemic.
“We have proportionally lost a huge chunk of our season at the peak period,” she said.
On Wednesday the state government announced it would provide $9.8 million in support for the alpine industry. Tourism Minister Martin Pakula said the money would go to businesses on and off the mountains.
“And that’s a recognition of the impact on them of restrictions during the peak winter season,” he said.
Mount Hotham Chamber of Commerce president Steve Belli welcomed the latest round of funding but said previous financial support for the alpine industry had been slow to arrive and some businesses had been unable to obtain help.
He said some customers had cancelled bookings for September during the most recent lockdown.
“This is the issue we have with those snap lockdowns, they just erode consumer confidence.”
Mr Belli owns several businesses, including two cafes, the Snow Stuff Park and a babysitting service at Mount Hotham, but he said only one of his cafes had remained open, providing a stripped-back service, during the lockdown.
Falls Creek has reopened to visitors this week. Credit:Chris Hocking
Some businesses owed considerable debts for costs including service changes and insurance even though they were largely unable to trade last year, he said.
“I don’t know of any other businesses in Australia that had three or four days’ trading in 2020.”
Falls Creek Chamber of Commerce president Lisa Logan, who manages a lodge accommodating 50 people, estimated she had lost about 20 per cent of her winter income because of the latest 12-day lockdown.
She said the skiing industry’s reliance on the weather, even though resorts now make snow, added to the stress of alpine businesses. “If that snow gets washed away that’s money down the drain,” she said.
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