January 25, 2020 16:24:18
Without some creative thinking, Victorian cheese producer Melissa Jacka feared her business may have been in serious trouble.
“There’s no one around,” she said.
Visitor numbers have slumped at what is normally the busiest time of the year following bushfires There is a knock-on effect among local businesses as each succumbs to the fall-outEfforts are being made to attract metropolitan visitors in unique ways
Deadly bushfires over the past month means visitor numbers have slumped in the region where around 20 per cent of the economy relies on tourism.
The Jacka family — who own and operate Tolpuddle Goat Cheese and Farm Foods, which is heavily reliant on farmgate and farmers’ market tourism — has now had to reshape how they will do business this year to keep afloat.
The tourism markets in the region are closely entwined and if one business suffers, it can quickly have a knock-on effect to impact the region.
Restaurants have slowed down and reduced their orders from local producers, local farmers markets have closed or become quiet, and the tourists have stopped coming to the farm gates.
With those revenue avenues cut off, the Jacka family has been travelling to markets in Melbourne to offload their surplus cheese stock and have had to change their production completely.
Hard cheeses are now the focus, with the aim of being able to sell those in the next six to 18 months when the tourists return.
“We’re not making product that can be sold now because we realised we weren’t going to have a market for it,” Ms Jacka said.
Social media power helping bushfire hit businesses
With the fires hitting at peak tourist period, Ms Jacka was also worried about keeping her hungry herd of 120 goats fed and cared for.
She admitted it was not easy to ask for help as she began to look outside the business model for support.
She launched an initiative on the business’s Facebook page encouraging animal lovers and cheese fans to foster a goat for the season ahead, but was unprepared for the global support her post received.
“I was gobsmacked watching how many people it reached, how many times it was shared, and how many people we had never met before were all of a sudden interested in what we were doing and wanted to help,” Ms Jacka said.
“I’ve got someone in Chile, I’ve got people in the United States…it’s amazing.”
The support from near and far will help the business through another season, covering the cost of feeding the herd as well as recovering from damaging floods that swept through the region over a year ago.
“We would have been in real strife actually which is why I get teary when I think about the support,” Ms Jacka said.
“We managed to get through winter where we’ve got very little production and very little income because we normally have a bumper summer.
“Without the bumper summer we were looking at it being another really difficult year.”
Tourism operators think outside the box
Two hundred tourism businesses responded to a Tourism North-East region-wide survey in early January.
The survey found more than half of tourism businesses reported 100 per cent losses, and a further quarter of respondents reported losses higher than 75 per cent.
Tourism operators are branching out in a bid to encourage visitors to come back to the region following bushfires.
Television commercials have been filmed this week promoting cycling tourism, while hashtags #spendwiththem, #emptyesky, and #holidayherethisyear are being rolled out.
Business are also targeting niche markets or working in conjunction with city colleagues to sell their wares.
One accommodation provider in Rutherglen has created a north-east Victorian itinerary and package aimed at classic car owners for February.
Local breweries have organised tap takeovers in metropolitan pubs and organisers of next week’s Elton John concert at All Saint’s Estate at Wahgunyah are hoping to entice some of those they lost when Cold Chisel was cancelled this month due to heavy smoke.
From the country to the city
Some tourism operators have started the ball rolling by taking their produce to Melbourne residents, who prop up much of the local visitor economy.
Around 100 north-east Victorian producers will be operating from Melbourne’s Timber Yard on 2 February for the High Country Comeback event which is encouraging city residents to show up with empty eskies and buy produce to help revive the region.
“The more you can stay in people’s line of sight, the better,” Tourism North-East acting CEO Sarah Pilgrim said.
“By taking the produce and telling the story and keeping [a connection] with our core Melbourne market, we entice people to book later in the year.
“Tourism operators are absolutely devastated. They’ve lost their revenue at what would be the busiest time of year, but they’re also amazingly strong and resilient.
“It’s quite humbling to see just how they’re fighting back.”
January 25, 2020 15:44:10