Holiday towns need your visit in the off-season too.

Rushed off their feet all summer, some businesses feel the chill of winter, writes Trish Berry

Imagine a business where the income and customers can drop by 75 per cent over the course of three months. Surely the business owners must be doing something wrong. Perhaps they have alienated their customer base, or fallen victim to a better operator.

Well, no, not necessarily. Not if it’s a hospitality business in a seasonal location.

Our coastal family-run wine store and bar in Point Lonsdale is not alone in having to deal with this reality every year. Located at the tip of the Bellarine region, our permanent population is around 3500 but swells to anywhere between 11,000 and 14,000 during the summer holiday period.

We open daily from morning to night during that time and last summer there was a line out the door most evenings.

The patronage progressively dies off from February, with the Queen’s Birthday long weekend the last hurrah until Melbourne Cup.

Our business is primarily sustained by summer takings, limps through the off-season, and ends up in the red by December, when we start the cycle all over again.

Winter is a terrific time to visit the region, however. Beach and inland foraging brings beautiful pine mushrooms, mustard greens and saltbush, and locally caught fish such as flathead, whiting and snapper are abundant. Hand-dived scallops are plump and sweet, and the high availability (not to mention, low cost) of boutique accommodation means a spontaneous weekend away is a cinch to organise.

It is not only hospitality outlets that suffer from this precarious existence. In our little village alone, six businesses have closed in the past two years. Despite a beautiful beach-front streetscape and the clear waters of Port Phillip Bay lapping just across the road, we no longer have the ubiquitous seaside fish-and-chip takeaway or colourful surf shop.

Lack of variety, retail appeal and tourist drawcards are disastrous and greatly diminish the appeal of the strip as a short-stay destination in the low-season.

We remain keen to survive and to contribute to the region as a year-round hospitality and tourism destination. To this end, we run a calendar of events in the quieter months, which are popular locally but don’t attract out-of-towners.

So, what is needed to boost off-season patronage in holiday towns? At a minimum:

  • More recognition that great food and wine can be enjoyed in coastal locations all year round.
  • Greater support for small hospitality enterprises from local and state governments and tourism organisations.
  • Partnerships with other tourism operators to develop local experience packages that include small hospitality businesses.
  • We love what we do. We enjoy our beautiful coastal location all year round and want to share it. Do come and see us

Trish Berry is co-owner of Noble Rot Wine Store and Bar in Point Lonsdale.

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