However, about one in four Victorians said they intended to travel regionally over the Easter break – the highest proportion in the country.
COVID-19 outbreaks and subsequent lockdowns such as that in Victoria in February and in Brisbane this week have made would-be travellers less willing to cross state borders, dashing the hopes of tourism operators who had been hoping that interstate tourism would offset the loss of international visitors.
“The snap border [closures] and lockdowns mean everyone is paranoid about getting stuck,” Mrs Mariani said.
Kristyn Slattery, the chair of the Bendigo Motels Association, said 12 groups of travellers had cancelled their bookings at her motel since Brisbane’s lockdown. Many of these cancellations were Victorians planning to reunite with Queensland relatives.
“People are worried about planning a holiday and then having it ripped out from beneath them,” the owner of the Julia-Anna Inn said.
Tourism & Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond said consumers were booking their holidays at the very last minute in the hope of avoiding border closures. She had also noticed a resurgence in the road trip which has, she said, been a “big holiday trend”.
Tourism in capital cities across Australia was hit harder by the pandemic than regional areas, with overnight trips falling by 52 per cent, according to Tourism Research Australia.
While some operators have struggled to attract as many interstate visitors as they would have liked, Melburnians have flocked to regional destinations.
Ms Nolan-Cook said some accommodation providers were reporting booked out weekends until the middle of the year after a busy summer.
“Certainly over the last month it’s felt like it’s been bustling,” she said.
Ms Nolan-Cook said border closures were influencing travel decisions, with some Melburnians reluctant to risk having to isolate upon returning.
“But separate to that people have also really re-evaluated the idea of exploring their own backyard.”
Acting Victorian Tourism Minister Jaala Pulford said the recent data on tourism spending captured an unusual time when Melburnians were coming out of restrictions.
“What happened very shortly after that reporting period is that Melbourne started its significant recovery,” she said.
She noted the city’s hosting of the Australian Open, the reopening of the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the return of AFL matches with fans in the stadium.
“The global pandemic has had a significant impact on our enviable visitor economy,” Ms Pulford said.
The state government has been encouraging Victorians to travel locally through its travel voucher scheme, which has funded 160,000 regional travel vouchers worth $200 each with the first round kicking off on December 11.
The scheme was recently expanded to include 40,000 Melbourne travel vouchers, which were snapped up within four minutes.
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Henrietta Cook is a senior reporter covering consumer affairs for The Age. Henrietta joined The Age in 2012 and has covered state politics and education.
Benjamin is The Age’s regional editor. He was previously state rounds reporter and has also covered education for The Age.