The City of Greater Geelong, which covers the seaside townships of Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads, will launch a campaign encouraging holidaymakers to “embrace the space”.
Geelong mayor Stephanie Asher said the push to disperse crowds would include a focus on spots not usually on the holiday trail such as Lake Connewarre.
“It’s the idea of finding the hidden gems in the region, previously little known spaces to go and explore,” she said.
Timing visits to popular beaches with low tide would help to prevent overcrowding, Cr Asher said, although she noted beach use was already changing.
“I’ve already noticed people using a lot more of the beach from Point Lonsdale to Ocean Grove.”
The council will encourage households to catch up outside – possibly in driveways and on nature strips – rather than socialising indoors.
Victorian coastal economies rely heavily on visitor trade. In May, the Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism board estimated the region was set to lose $1.3 billion due to the combined impact of last summer’s bushfires and the pandemic.
The board’s chairman, Wayne Kayler-Thomson, said wearing masks on the beach would be part of the summer holidays. And “mass events” were unlikely to proceed.
“We won’t have the level of events we would normally have during the first quarter of the year,” he said.
Mr Kayler-Thomson warned natural attractions that drew big crowds, such as the 12 Apostles, would have to be managed differently so that visitation could be spread out across the day.
“Go early or go late. Enjoy the 12 Apostles at sunrise or sunset.”
He encouraged visitors to explore the coastal hinterlands and look beyond the most popular locations.
With school holidays starting on Friday, the prospect of Melburnians flocking to holiday homes and rushing to book out accommodation over the summer is fanning concern in coastal communities.
Becc Carroll, who lives at Armstrong Creek near Torquay, is among those nervous about the holiday season.
“It’s a hard one. I guess everybody should have the right to come and enjoy it,” she said. “But obviously there’s that concern it could lift up our [coronavirus case] numbers.”
Residents felt exposed, Ms Carroll said, and would be unable to easily leave the region if hordes of holidaymakers descended on the coast.
“We just want to keep our home safe. We don’t have a choice. We’re just trying to stay home.”
Ms Carroll argued authorities should limit the number of holidaymakers over summer but conceded she was unsure how that could be achieved.
“I do think they need to in some way protect us and what we have.”
Andrew Cherubin, president of 3228 Residents Association which represents Torquay, said there was angst in the community about summer considering the Surf Coast Shire had no active coronavirus cases.
“A big part of the concern is what’s going to happen if we have an outbreak in Torquay. Then does Torquay go into shutdown and what does that do to the local economy?” he said.
Mr Cherubin urged visitors to wear masks at all times where possible and observe social-distancing etiquette to help allay the concerns of residents.
On the Mornington Peninsula, potential limits to the number of visitors within households is likely to have a major influence on summer’s tourism numbers.
Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism Board executive chair Tracey Cooper said in previous years the vast majority of visitors during the holiday season stayed with relatives or friends who owned properties there.
“I would have 15 people in my family come and stay for three days [at Christmas] and the question is, will that be allowed to happen again?” she said.
Ms Cooper said the spontaneity of previous holidays would likely be impossible this year and eating out would need to be organised in advance to allow for reduced customer capacity at restaurants and cafes.
“You’ll have to book because it’s the only way people can manage the density [of patrons]. It means you’ll have to be very patient.”
At Phillip Island, the latest state government figures showed tourism was worth an estimated $529 million in the year to March.
Destination Phillip Island Regional Tourism Board general manager Kim Storey anticipated a busy summer. But visits to attractions such as the penguin parade would have to be booked well in advance.
“We don’t know what the limitations will be but certainly people will need to plan that high interest activity ahead of time,” she said.
Benjamin is The Age’s regional editor. He was previously state rounds reporter and has also covered education for The Age.