SOUTH Gippsland tourism operators are united in declaring the region open for business as the impacts of the East Gippsland bushfires takes its toll locally.
Some operators have been hit hard with cancellations from concerned holiday makers while others are reporting little to no loss of business.
Tarra Valley Caravan Park owner David Western estimated he is 50 per cent down on bookings in what is normally his busiest time of the year.
“We’ve had plenty of cancellations, about 15 to 20,” Mr Western said.
“Others have rung up and we have had to explain to them we’re not affected and then they still come.”
Leongatha Caravan Park co-owner Cheryl Park told 3AW the park had lost about 90 per cent of its income due to cancellations.
However, the Opal Motel, also in Leongatha, has not been affected.
Owner Ian Quinton said the motel was fully booked last Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights but added the business did not rely on holiday makers as heavily as some others.
“We have a mixture of workers and travellers,” he said.
Mr Quinton said the message to get out was that South Gippsland was open for business.
“We are 250km away from the fires,” he said.
“If you missed out on going to East Gippsland, choose South Gippsland.”
Ben Dickie of Wildlife Coast Cruises at Cowes agreed, saying it’s safe to visit the region.
“Do be cautious when travelling but the fires are quite a distance from the areas we operate in,” Mr Dickie said.
He said the company had experienced some reported bushfire-related cancellations including large group bookings in February with Wilsons Promontory cruises the hardest hit.
He noted visitor numbers were down on last year but this was partly due to inconsistent weather conditions.
Phillip Island Nature Parks said it had heard of some operators around the state receiving cancellations, but they had not had any as a result of the bushfires.
Communications executive Roland Pick said they had fielded enquiries about how safe it was to travel to Phillip Island.
“People are concerned for the penguins’ welfare, however, we have assured them all that Phillip Island is not directly impacted by the fires and the penguins are all safe and well,” Mr Pick said.
The Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit has assured tourists locally and abroad that the Island and circuit are safe.
In an email last week, the Grand Prix Circuit media team said it was thankful for the efforts of volunteer firefighters across Australia, “some our staff, that are continuing to protect our communities, our animals and land”.
The Big 4 Inverloch Holiday Park was another that has not been affected.
Manager Ross Splatt said the park was fully booked until the end of January.
“We’ve had lots of people looking and asking, but no actual cancellations,” he said.
Wilsons Promontory Cruises is in its first season operating out of Tidal River and while the company did not report any cancellations, it said the Prom did not appear to be as busy as usual which would impact on the number of visitors on their cruises.
South Gippsland Shire Council’s economic development department issued a statement that they had “not had any reports from local businesses they are experiencing cancellations/loss of business from the current smoke”.

Be positive: Destination Gippsland

TOURISM marketing body Destination Gippsland is working to counter negative consumer perceptions of the region in the wake of the devastating East Gippsland fires.
Chief executive Terry Robinson said the peak tourism organisation for the region was aware that while East Gippsland was heavily impacted, other parts of Gippsland were also feeling the effects of the fires in business downturn.
“Whilst many of you believe your areas are ‘unaffected’ by the bushfires, EPA air quality warnings and water quality mean that some guest experiences in these areas have and will continue to be compromised,” Mr Robinson said.
“All we can do is ask you to be honest and up-front in your social and consumer messaging, and we will do the same.”
Mr Robinson said tourism businesses could use social media to encourage people to return to the region but warned against posting photos of fire, smoke, burnt or injured animals, or empty streets or shops.
Photos of positive tourism experiences, guest profiles, availability and specials, and staff were recommended to encourage visitors.
Destination Gippsland also advised using good quality images, positive captions and appropriate hashtags such as #visitgippsland and #inspiredbygippsland.
Other recommended hashtags included town names and services.
Member for Gippsland South Danny O’Brien has also declared the rest of Gippsland was open for business.
He pleaded with non-local media and tourists to “understand that Gippsland is a big place only part of it is affected by fire””.
He said he had been contacted by several constituents in South Gippsland concerned they were losing business due to the fire threat in East Gippsland.
“It’s heart-breaking, knowing how much economic and physical damage that east Gippsland is receiving, to think that some of the tourism industry in places not affected by fire is also being impacted,” Mr O’Brien said.
“For example, South Gippsland is several hundred kilometres away from the nearest fire front and yet I have businesses in my electorate reporting that they have had cancellations due to fires.
“I strongly urge tourists, especially those from Melbourne and interstate to check with their destination if they are unsure about safety and continue to come and enjoy time in our region while spending much-needed tourist dollars.”
Mr O’Brien said Gippsland had had its fair share of economic challenges in recent years and didn’t need any further unnecessary pain