By Michael Giles

THE Loch Food and Wine Festival absolutely went off over the weekend with organisers saying that as many as 4500 people flocked to town on Sunday, as compared to 2400 people the previous year.
It’s indicative of the level of interest, built on easy access, that this beautiful, green, well-located area has with the people of the south eastern suburbs.
And not forgetting the locals prepared to get out and support fun local events when they are well publicised.
Well done Loch!
Meeniyan and Fish Creek have done similar things with their festivals in recent times, now building into year-round visitation for no particular reason than they are nice, interesting places to visit.
In fact, the Herald-Sun ran a feature on Meeniyan this week with journalist Jo Davy encouraging people who would normally pass through the town on their way to Wilsons Promontory and elsewhere to “linger a while longer” next time.
“It has award-winning wines, fresh produce and stunning scenery and it’s not far from Victoria’s best beaches,” she says, going on to list the pick of things to do including a visit to Pandesal Bakery and the Trulli Woodfired pizzeria with side trips to Alison Lester’s gallery and bookshop at Fish Creek and the Waratah Hills Winery.
Inverloch and the Island were also busy over the weekend.
So, this area is absolutely primed for tourism growth and the boost to the local economy and jobs that it would bring but how serious are we about embracing the opportunity?
Destination Gippsland, which has just published its ‘Draft Gippsland Destination Management Plan Tourism 2030 – A Blueprint for Growth’ has canvassed many of the ideas and opportunities and is a document well worth a look online.
But one thing that stands out is the lack of funding. Where associations like the Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association raises $10 million annually by managing attractions including cave tours and a lighthouse, and Tourism Tropical North Queensland has $8.77 million annually mostly from grant funding, Destination Gippsland has approximately $1.5 million at its disposal.
It would be barely enough, surely, to act on many (any?) of the worthy initiatives in the document.
What’s the secret if we are to capitalize on the massive growth potential? A levy on business in Gippsland? Local access to the funds generated by attractions like Wilsons Prom? Where does all that money go?
The six municipalities that are covered by Destination Gippsland need to get serious about developing tourism opportunities in the region and the reality is, business operators have to be prepared to make it happen themselves.
Check out the report, make a response by June 27 (janet@trctourism.com), and at least it might give you a few ideas about what might be possible in the local area to help realise our full potential. There’s also a drop-in style opportunity to hear more at the Century Inn Traralgon today, Wednesday, June 12 with a summary presented at 12 noon and again at 5pm.