‘Now the hard work begins’

WITH the Hazelwood mine fire under control, the work to raise the profile of Morwell and the Gippsland region now begins, according to a local tourism operator.

“In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to point fingers at people standing in front of you, but all of those people go away,” Walhalla Tourism Association president Michael Leaney said.

“That’s when the hard work really begins. Morwell has to be careful it doesn’t get tainted.”

After reading the article ‘Tourism weathers smoky storm’ (The Express, 3 March), Mr Leaney said hotels and motels may have been busy in the Latrobe Valley during the firefighting effort, but asked “what percentage of the market is tourism compared to corporate business?”

The owner of the Star Hotel in Walhalla said tourism was a “fickle” market and the warning bells were ringing for long-term ramifications on the area.

He told The Express he was aware of a charter booking for 40 people to stay in Morwell accommodation in April had been cancelled and said bookings over the long weekend were down.

“Walhalla has been very soft accommodation wise. It’s possible the negative messaging is having an effect beyond Morwell itself, and we need to be conscious of that,” Mr Leaney said.

“What are we going to do to be proactive and roll out the minute the fire is out?”

Destination Gippsland chief executive Terry Robinson said the Hazelwood mine fire would have short term effects on the tourism industry while it remained in the news and smoke issues continued.

Mr Robinson said from previous experience after fires and floods, he had observed short term impacts, but found visitation returned quickly and would reach normal levels once the visiting public was assured of the experience it was going to get.

“It’s definitely an issue, but the tourism industry is confident, once the fire is out, we’ll do a lot of marketing and promotion and return the Latrobe Valley back to normal,” Mr Robinson said.

As part of the respite efforts in Morwell, Destination Gippsland in association with Latrobe City Council and the Department of Human Services called on the tourism industry to offer temporary relocation accommodation.

The chief executive reported 48 responses from the industry offering heavily discounted rooms and good rates for Morwell residents.