The Heathcote On Show volunteer committee have made the heartbreaking decision to cancel their Queen's Birthday long weekend food and wine festival for the second year in a row amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Organiser Judy Maine has been at the festival helm for seven years and said it was a devastating decision to be forced to make.
"To pull it this close to the event is heartbreaking," she said. "There's going to be a negative effect felt by the region and an economic impact no doubt.
"Many of the wineries part of Heathcote On Show will still be open over the long weekend and we encourage people to contact businesses to check what's on show.
"Heathcote will be open but Heathcote On Show will not."
The City of Greater Bendigo Council's 2019 Economic Impact Study revealed the festival brought 7000 visitors to the region over the three-days with financial impact of more than $1.5 million.
Heathcote Tourism and Development president Peter Maine worried the cancellation of the Heathcote region's "cornerstone event" could have far-reaching consequences.
"We have had significant development on the festival committee and in the region's wineries and businesses over the past five years that has grown the event," he said.
"Our survey revealed we had a younger audience than what we'd dealt with previously as Shiraz is typically a grey-haired drinker's choice. But we've changed our approach and improved the festival in targeted areas to cater for a younger audience from Melbourne.
"Based on the data we had and the development of the festival, we wouldn't have been surprised if the economic impact wouldn't have grown to over $2M in 2021 and for that alone, I'm crushed it can't go ahead.
"The ripple effects are felt across all the other people not involved in the event; the petrol stations, bakeries, little coffee shops and the little shops on High Street.
"That knock-on impact from COVID will be significant and will be significant for a long time. We got through the two big lockdowns with every business that was open pre-COVID is still open which is a fantastic testament to the town's tenacity."
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Despite the cancellation, Mrs Maine is confident that the 17-year history and strong reputation of the festival will see the crowds return in 2022.
"Heathcote On Show is a well-established event and it's gone from strength to strength," she said.
"This year we had more wineries with many more events which demonstrates the participants of the show are dedicated and continue to invest in the event.
"Our foundations are so strong and the desire is there. I have great confidence we'll come back in 2022 as our popularity as a destination has grown exponentially which is a testament to what Heathcote has to offer and events like this."
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