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‘It’s beautiful’: Melburnians flock to the regions in first two weeks of eased restrictions

But chief executive Felicia Mariani said results of its latest survey showed restrictions, confusion and safety fears continued to hurt many businesses.

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Of 200 responses received in the first 48 hours since the survey opened on Tuesday, one-third of businesses reported they did not reopen with the June easing.

Of these, about half were allowed to reopen but chose not to because they could not make social distancing work or had concerns about safety and legal liabilities.

Twenty per cent reported they were unsure if the restrictions allowed them to open, so they stayed closed as a caution.

Ms Mariani said many businesses have reported they were not given enough notice to prepare before reopening, a factor she said would diminish as the days passed.

Confusion also remained about different restrictions from state to state, particularly in businesses operating across borders.

The Great Ocean Road, Bellarine Peninsula and the Murray River have been tourism hot spots in the first fortnight of eased restrictions.

The Great Ocean Road, Bellarine Peninsula and the Murray River have been tourism hot spots in the first fortnight of eased restrictions.Credit:iStock

Significantly, more than half of the state’s tourism operators are evaluating their entire business model in order to survive, according to the survey.

But most challenging for tourism operators was remaining viable amid the restrictions stipulating one person for every four square metres of floor space, Ms Mariani said.

“That [rule] if you have an indoor operation, whether it’s an attraction or restaurant or whatever it might be, is killing these guys,” she said.

“Your staffing has very likely gone up in order to do what you need to do to comply, but your revenue model has gone down because you can only fit maybe 30-35 per cent of what you would normally fit in the place.”

Ms Mariani pointed to Western Australia’s decision last week to scale down its social distancing requirements to two square metres and suggested a similar rule could be applied to regional Victoria in a “test and learn” approach.

The industry’s bright spot was undoubtedly regional accommodation providers, especially caravan, camping and cabin parks, she said.

Owner-operator of Queenscliff’s Big 4 Beacon Resort Lorraine Golightly said June forecasts were up 11 per cent on the same time last year.

“We shut down virtually overnight and then the phones just went for 10 days straight leading into that long weekend,” Ms Golightly said.

“The conversation is ‘we just had to get out of the house’,” she said.

“One of the emails that came back said they’d had a diagnosis of cancer during the restrictions, they’d been home schooling and someone had been on the front line, all within this one family.

“They’ve said ‘we finally feel like we’ve got our sanity back, thank you’. It’s beautiful, it really is.”

Eric Tansil, wife Chia and his children Eva, 5, and Hannah, 2 were among those to get away from suburban lockdown at their first opportunity, which happily coincided with his birthday.

They travelled to Queenscliff on Friday with friends, also with young children, and planned to stay until Tuesday.

“We just needed to get out and about and get a change of scenery. It felt exciting just driving on the road again,” he said. “It’s hard to describe. It’s just refreshing.

“The [kids] are super excited – the fact they can play with their friends again. And it’s good to talk to an adult again face-to-face.”

Ms Mariani said CBD businesses, which rely on office worker patronage, were among those failing to benefit from the eased restrictions.

Other sectors that continued to suffer disproportionately were live venues, business events and school camps, which she warned were “staring down the barrel” at losing an entire year and may go out of business forever.

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