Finally free to move, Victorians didn't hold back in booking travel when restrictions eased this week, but the tough times may not be over for the state's tourism operators.
Lisa Logan manages Diana Lodge at Falls Creek and is also the local chamber of commerce president. She says Tuesday's press conference announcing the end of the latest Victorian lockdown hadn't even finished when they started fielding booking inquiries.
At the same time they were also dealing with cancellations from interstate – that's around 20 per cent of her normal business – "but Victorians are taking up the slack there," she said.
It's been a roller coaster for the snow resorts – on the back of a season that went for just four days in 2020, bookings have swung back and forth according to the lockdowns. "There was huge demand in February and March," Logan says, "but that all dropped away with that late May lockdown."
But she's optimistic for the 2021 season, with snow cover tracking above average for this time of year.
Falls Creek's resort marketing director Sarah Watt says accommodation operators have been advising that occupancy levels are still very high. "Those guests that have had to cancel due to the lockdown have rebooked new dates where they can. There is also a lot of interest."
Alpine resort visitors have to return a negative result on a COVID test taken no longer than 72 hours before they travel and, like other Victorians, they're restricted to travelling with people from their household, an intimate partner or a single "bubble buddy".
Despite those restrictions, demand in the alpine resorts seems to be strong. "Visitors are so keen to come and are heading out to get tested so they can come and enjoy their snow holiday," Watt said.
With bookings solid through to early September at least, heavy discounting is unlikely at the mountain resorts. People looking for a bargain would probably do best to look at the second half of September.
Victorians are on the move all over the state. Jackalope, the luxurious boutique hotel and vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula, reported a 600 per cent increase on bookings on Tuesday, compared with the daily average during lockdown.
At Gumbaya World, a water and wildlife theme park at Tynong North, south-east of Melbourne, chief executive Ron Weinzierl says ticket sales for the weekend were about 10 times their normal level. "Since lockdown was lifted, we've seen an influx of bookings ... Victorians are craving activity and are excited to be back supporting local businesses," he said.
Many Victorians might have spent lockdown using the relaunch of Live Penguin TV as a distraction, and Roland Pick, head of international sales for Phillip Island Nature Parks, says that could have something to do with a spike in bookings for the Penguin Parade.
Normally a major attraction for international and interstate visitors, he says there's "never been a better time for local visitors to see the little penguins, and we truly appreciate the continued support of the Victorian community."
At the nearby Beachfront Holiday Park, manager Kelly Rutter said that as "soon as the announcement was made on Tuesday, we had a major increase in bookings for the weekend and for the upcoming months. A lot of guests are also re-booking from their cancellations initially from the lockdown."
The upside of border closures and travel restrictions is that "people are taking the opportunity to travel in Victoria and support businesses in regional towns who have been severely impacted by lockdowns," she said.
But on the flipside, the operators of Five Acres luxury coastal cabins at Phillip Island said that while they were full for the next few weeks, they sensed a lack of confidence in the market, with potential guests worried about further lockdowns and being more cautious with their spending.
Craig Peachey, who runs RACV's portfolio of resorts, says bookings are strong, but "this has been a consistent trend rather than a spike as such. However industry wide labour shortages are impacting the businesses – particularly in our regional areas – and due to this, most of our properties are therefore not able to operate at full capacity.
"There's no doubt that uncertainty regarding border closures and restrictions are impacting interstate travel, and this is reflected in volatility in volumes from Victoria at our properties in Queensland and Tasmania, but this tends to follow a border closure, rather than precede it.
"It is fair to say that our experience suggests that Victorians still seem to be willing to consider travelling interstate when possible, with future bookings at our Queensland properties in particular holding, despite the volatile and constantly changing environment," Peachey said.
At Port Fairy, the operators of the Oak and Anchor hotel say they went from one reservation this weekend to being fully booked within 30 minutes of restrictions being lifted. But outside of that, they sensed some hesitation in booking due to consumer uncertainty and people waiting to see how the first few days of eased restrictions pan out.
Encouraging Victorians to get out and about, Visit Victoria chief executive Brendan McClements says "everyone loves a getaway and there are thousands of options within Victoria. With travel restrictions eased this week, it's a great time to go somewhere you've never been or book in for a staycation in the city."
With the demand from Victorians wanting to travel and the need for operators to make up lost ground, heavily discounted travel deals seem to be few and far between, but in the regions, Murray River Paddlesteamers are operating again and offering savings of up to 25 per cent. They have four-night Explorer cruises in August with savings of as much as $1125 a couple, stopping at wineries and the historic Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement. Phone (03) 5482 5244, see psemmyloucruises.com.au
For a city staycation, Luxury Escapes is offering a two-night stay at the Ovolo Laneways Hotel at the top of Little Bourke Street. Valued at up to $1176, the deal starts at $399 a room for two nights, with breakfast and mini-bar treats included. Book by August 12 for travel until July 30, 2022. Phone 1300 88 99 00, see luxuryescapes.com