Regional cities attracting visitors post-COVID

10 October 2022

Written by: Jackson Mansell

Despite people predominantly wanting to travel overseas, some regional Victorian towns are attracting tourists like never before.

After almost two years of no traveling during the pandemic, going on holiday has become a popular activity among Australians since restrictions were eased.

And while the 2021/22 National Visitor Survey found that since 2019, domestic overnight visitation in Victoria was down 35 percent, some regional areas such as Bendigo are now thriving.

The town, situated about 150 kilometres north-west of Melbourne and home to over 165,000 people, is best known for its arts and cultural setting, which was impacted by the pandemic. However, since then, Bendigo Tourism Marketing Manager Glenn Harvey says that there has been a drastic transformation in the tourism sector.

“It’s gone from one of our toughest periods in history, to probably one of our [busiest] periods in our history, in the space of 12 months,” he tells upstart.

The biggest drawcard Bendigo has had this year is the Elvis Presley exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery. Elvis: Direct from Graceland was opened in March by Elvis’ first wife Priscilla Presley and extended until July. The showcase smashed the record for the biggest crowd Bendigo has had at an exhibition with 219,000 people attending.

This prompted Harvey and his team to find ways to keep people in Bendigo, after seeing the Elvis exhibit.

“We want people to do things while they’re in Bendigo, you want them to stay at accommodation or want them to go to hospitality, attractions,” he says.

The City of Greater Bendigo decided to get creative and introduce Viva Bendigo, a series of events in the region with a Vegas theme. Harvey says that the “creative” campaign was an “economic multiplier”, generating over 85 percent capacity at their accommodation every night for four months.

“Everyone knew that Elvis was in Bendigo, and it really was what [Bendigo] needed. So, to have that opportunity to really go from a very tough period to, ‘hey, the place is bustling’ for such a period of time was huge,” he says.

Bendigo would go on to win the 2022 Victorian Top Tourism Town award in July and will soon compete for the national award. Harvey says that despite the Elvis event, the award is a testament to the tourist destination that Bendigo already was.

“Elvis wasn’t part of that submission. So, to think we had that on top of it, is really nice to know that we already had a very quality destination regardless of events,” he says.

Another town looking to attract tourists is Gippsland, this time with the right kind of branding. In 2019, Destination Gippsland conducted a brand review, hiring the services of digital marketing company ISpy. ISpy’s findings made it clear that they needed to revamp their brand, after using the same brand for 10 years.

Destination Gippsland then used Australasian creative agency Clemenger BBDO, local agency The View From Here, and Melbourne influencer Chris Cincotta to improve their new brand.

Located about two hours south-east of Melbourne, Gippsland is known for its natural beauty with attractions such as Wilsons Prom, Refuge Cove and Toorongo Falls. Marketing Manager Alison Conroy says that their plan was to use images from attractions like these to help people visualise Gippsland’s beauty.

“What [Clemenger BBDO] came back to us with was you can use all of these really incredible visuals to attract your target audience. So out of that was born all kinds of wonder. We built off points of difference with incredible natural experiences,” she tells upstart.

“People think Gippsland is a little discovered secret and what we were doing was really sort of trying to share some of those secrets.”

The review would lead Gippsland to receive gold at the 2021 Australian Tourism Awards for their tourism marketing campaign. This award validated a successful road to recovery for Destination Gippsland and their marketing strategy, in a time where the Black Summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, riddled the region. However, Conroy says that they were able to use these hardships to their advantage, in promoting, highlighted in their award submission.

“My colleague who actually wrote our award submission…wrote ‘for Gippsland [being] impacted by bushfire, drought and COVID, the brand campaign is also a path towards recovery’ and I thought that beautifully summed up where we’re at in this really weird place where we all are post COVID,” she says.

Bendigo and Gippsland have both achieved success to a certain extent since the pandemic but have differing views as to how they will maintain this.

Glenn Harvey says that Bendigo intends on maintaining the strategies which have put them in this position.

“I can’t see us changing [our strategy]. A lot of those strategies have been very successful,” he says.

However, Alison Conroy says the plan for Gippsland is to evolve their current strategies, in order to fit in with current travel trends, such as sustainability and supporting local communities.

“I guess the role of “All kinds of wonder” is really to be adaptable to all of those messages, and in this current format we can.”



Article: Jackson Mansell is a second-year Bachelor of Media and Communications (Sports Journalism) student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter @jackson_mansell

Photo: Image supplied by Bendigo Tourism.