VTIC CEO Felicia Mariani

A DELEGATION of mayors from regional Victoria will today lobby state political leaders for urgent funding to “super charge” regional tourism following revelations just three per cent of international visitors to Melbourne venture out into country Victoria.

Regional Cities Victoria yesterday joined the Victorian Tourism Industry Council in calling for the increased commitment, seeking $300 million over four years in funding, while the VTIC is asking for $200m over the same period.

VTIC chief executive Felicia Mariani said regional offerings needed to be exactly what visitors wanted, and easy to get to, but Victoria was falling short on both counts.

There needed to be more luxury accommodation offerings accessible to nature-based activities and seamless transport options between all of them.

“There are a few things that are worrying in terms of our ability to translate our international visitation into regional areas,” Ms Mariani said.

“Right now, 97 per cent of international visitors who come into Victoria put their head down in Melbourne.

“We are performing very well in the international space, we are number two behind New South Wales, we pipped Queensland for about four years, and we are well and truly ensconsed in the number two position, which is teriffic.

“But we are not seeing that translate to regional visitation as well as we could.”

RCV chairperson and greater Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke said she and other regional mayors would lobby Premier Daniel Andrews and opposition leader Matthew Guy at a private forum in Melbourne yesterday after they launched their policy platform on Wednesday, 100 days out from the state election.

In addition to the regional visitor growth fund, the organisation wants a $600m jobs growth fund and a regional connectivity package to guide investment in transport networks.

RCV covers 10 regional cities – Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Horsham, Latrobe, Mildura, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Warrnambool and Wodonga.

“RCV has had productive discussions at high levels with both the government and opposition on our plan for boosting growth across regional Victoria,” Cr O’Rourke said.

“Our 10 regional cities are home to over 600,000 people – about 10 per cent of the Victorian population.

“We are only scratching the surface of our potential.”

Ms Mariani commended Bendigo on its marketing of the region as an arts and culture destination, but central Victorian is hostage like all of the regions to wider visitor trends.

“When you take it down to the lowest common denominator, it is about seven cents in every international dollar spent in Victoria is spent in regional Victoria,” she said.

“At a national level, for every international dollar spent in Australia, 43 cents of that is spent in a regional area.

“That relates to a couple of things, the quality of experiences that we have on offer, and how easy we make it for people to get there.

“In Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong, at least there are some good train services to get you there, it is not the case in the rest of Victoria.”

Don’t expect international tourists to drive, she said, because language and cultural barriers can rule out that prospect for many visitors.

“Also we have to have the level and the quality of experiences that people are looking for in order for visitors to go to the trouble of getting out of capital cities,” she said.

“It can be done, other states are doing it, and nature-based experiences are a key driver for them but we are falling behind in terms of the level of quality of experience in a natural environment.”

Ms Mariani said out of 19 luxury lodges in Australia, only one was located in Victoria – the Lake House in Daylesford.

– Sharon Kemp