Bendigo's tourism sector is remaining optimistic about its recovery despite the cancellation of this year's Bendigo Swap Meet.
Swap meet organisers announced yesterday the event scheduled for November wouldn't go ahead, citing ongoing uncertainties about interstate travel restrictions and the vaccine rollout.
Bendigo Tourism chair Finn Vedelsby said the cancellation would likely hit the accommodation sector hardest of all.
"The Bendigo Swap Meet is certainly an event that brings a lot of visitation to Bendigo," he said. "The city does fill up for that weekend.
"Our accommodation sector, which has been finding it the toughest in all the tourism sector, will be hit hard.
"It's a big blow but that said, (the swap meet) is an event run by a committee and that committee didn't feel it was right to go ahead.
"How safe (events feel) they make people along side the fiscal responsibility they have for the event (is important). Some events are easier to organise, others are really big with a lot of moving parts that make the risk not worth the reward, should there be any."
City of Greater Bendigo tourism and major events manager Terry Karamaloudis said while the swap meet's decision was disappointing, hosting events in a COVID-safe environment was an ongoing challenge for organisers.
"Obviously it is disappointing to not see the swap meet this year," he said. "But if you look beneath the surface, there is a huge amount of preparation that needs to be done to hold the meet and the volunteer committee does and outstanding job.
"(The decision) might seem a long way out (from November) but it is an important tipping point for organisers, vendors and people travel plans.
"In a time of uncertainty and constant change, the focus with the Department of Health and (state) government is health as a first priority and majority of people would respect that view."
Bendigo Motels Association president Kristyn Slattery said accommodation businesses were already seeing cancellations as a result of the swap meet being called off but motel owners were trying to stay optimistic.
"The Red Hot Summer Tour is also that weekend (in November), which takes a bit of pressure off," she said. "If that continues and we can increase capacity that's a positive.
"We are trying to focus on the positives more than the negatives but are also seeing cancellations from Queensland and NSW for events in next couple of weeks.
"Consumer travel confidence feels very low again, people have to protect their finances and livelihood, which doesn't help us try to rebuild ours."
Ms Slattery said night-based events such as Awaken had a flow on effect to the rest of the city's tourism sector.
"We're definitely seeing more Victorians move around, which is fantastic," she said. "Being an after-dark exhibition, it means people need accommodation. The fact Bendigo has got Awaken on for three weeks is amazing.
"The lights and walk through Rosalind Park after dark is magical. It is disappointing coronavirus has kept a cap on numbers but it is still very exciting and I would love see happen again in larger and longer format."
Ms Slattery said the accommodation sector would welcome more evening based events.
"Anything that is Victorian-based, not relying on interstate and is an after dark experience is very welcome," she said. "If we can get as much of that on the calendar as possible, it will be a massive support to the accommodation sector.
"When (accommodation traders) are busy and full, it has a massive flow on effect for the local economy."
Mr Karamaloudis said the swap meet's cancellation gave the major events team months to try and find another event to take place in November.
"(There is) time to seek out and try to secure another event whether it is a sporting event, food and wine event or an art event," he said.
Mr Vedelsby said there were a number of other events scheduled in Bendigo in the next few months that would aid business recovery.
"There are upwards of 50 events booked in the next three months that will keep Bendigo alive," he said..
"It's been wonderful to see the visitation to the free event Awaken with the light shows in Rosalind Park. It is gathering crowds not seen before, that's inspiration born of necessity.
"Bendigo on the Hop has sold out which is great weekend in Bendigo, so there are still many events bringing visitation."
Mr Karamaloudis said the immediate focus for Bendigo's tourism sector should be on ensuring events can go ahead for Victorians.
"Right now, given the situation with other states in lockdown, our focus must turn to what can take place in Victoria," he said.
"Bendigo on the Hop is sold out, we are working weekly with White Night and are full stem ahead for that in October. We are working closely Colin Thompson and the blues festival to hopefully see a magnificent celebration of 10 years of that event.
"There are also a host of sporting events on the drawing board. We are busy and pleased to be busy but it requires us to be ready to change direction.
"Next week it might change and we have got to be nimble and think on our feet but overriding thing is that we must comply with state govt regulations. We will do that and continue to do that."
Mr Karamaloudis said the Awaken event had sold 40,000 tickets with 18,000 going to people in metropolitan Melbourne and other parts of regional Victoria.
"People are coming to Bendigo in the middle of winter to go to a laser light and sound show in Rosalind Park," he said. "There are a few interstate registrations but Awaken is attracting a local Victorian audience."
Mr Vedelsby said Bendigo's central location meant it could attract visitors from every direction.
"Being right in middle of state, Bendigo has historically been able to encourage visitation from rural Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne. But we are also accessible to other states.
"Historically, we have had visitation from other states but we also learned through this pandemic that you can have a successful event and have even more interesting speakers and invitations via Zoom, which made the writers festival held in Bendigo not long ago a huge success."
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