By Romy Stephens
Yarra Ranges Council will extend its partnership with Yarra Ranges Tourism, as the tourism industry continues to feel the impact of COVID-19.
At their 10 March meeting, councillors passed a motion that endorsed an extension of its existing Partnership Agreement with Yarra Ranges Tourism for another 12 months.
It also recommended an increase in the tourism body’s funding amount by 2.5 per cent.
Yarra Ranges Tourism chairman James Robinson said that with the recent bushfires and now the coronavirus, it was an important time to support a body that brings so much to tourism across the region.
“We believe that our reputation has increased over that time and the impact that we have on the region is significant,” he said.
“Obviously there are some choppy waters ahead, it’s probably a good time now to be getting behind and investing in a very important part of the economy.”
Mr Robinson also discussed the impact coronavirus was having on the region but acknowledged that the Yarra Ranges might not be hit as hard as other areas.
“In terms of anecdotal understandings from around the region, we’ve seen obviously some major impacts,” he said.
“But I also believe that we’re pretty well protected in terms of our closeness to Melbourne.
“We’re having comments coming back that accommodation is still being booked.
“One of the benefits I think we have is the long-term nature of weddings which causes a lot of the bookings and a lot of the activity on weekends in terms of accommodation,” he said.
Yarra Ranges Council has supported Yarra Ranges Tourism through a Partnership Agreement since 2006.
Cr Fiona McAllister said Yarra Ranges Tourism has been extremely beneficial towards the local tourism industry and was needed now more than ever.“The starting point for me is the very positive impact that Yarra Ranges Tourism has had on our visitor economy,” she said.
“I’ve seen relationships heal, I’ve seen a strategic focus taken, I’ve seen a shift to contemporary approaches to a digital way of thinking about attracting visitors and an all-of-industry approach to marketing really unfold over the last few years.
“The industry has been doing it extremely hard.
“The stories on the ground cause me concern. First, we had the bushfire impact…The wine industry continues to struggle with Phylloxera and that has a substantial impact on our wine economy and now, of course, coronavirus.
However, some Councillors said the increase in funding by 2.5 per cent was too much.
Cr Cox said the Council should not increase funding more than what rates will increase.
“The increased money that we would be, under this motion, giving to Yarra Ranges Tourism is 2.5 per cent on what it was. I would suggest that it should be 2 per cent,” he said.
“It’s nitpicking but the reason I’m advancing that is because Council rates will go up 2 per cent this year.
“I believe that all Council payouts, where Council can control them should go up by no more than the increase in rates.
However, in the end Councillors passed the motion.The decision came as yet another major Yarra Ranges business expressed the impacts it has felt from coronavirus and the recent bushfires.
Rochford Wines marketing manager Maddy Jones said the winery’s visitation numbers were down 30 per cent in February.
“The whole story started with the bushfires. There wasn’t a lot of clarity in the fact that the Yarra Valley wasn’t affected,” she said.
“China is one of our biggest tourist markets so the impacts of that were felt pretty suddenly and quite quickly.“
Global COVID-19 concerns also forced Rochford Wines to reschedule its Wine Machine event for 31 October.
It was originally scheduled to take place on 28 March.
The Victorian Government conducted a review into regional tourism last year, to find new ways to support tourism in regional Victoria, enhance private investment and create jobs.
The final outcomes of this review are yet to be formalised but expected to be implemented prior to 30 June 2021.