HALLS GAP - Business operators in Halls Gap are facing a challenge to assure potential visitors that the township is open for business.
Reports in metropolitan media about the bushfires burning out of control in the Grampians have sent alarm bells ringing among tourists.
Many potential visitors had already booked packages to stay in Halls Gap, but have since raised concerns about their safety due to the media reports. According to Halls Gap Tourism chairman, Geoff Watts, who also owns and operates Grampians Chalets in Halls Gap, many tourists had attempted to cancel their booking.
Mr Watts said the concern was, many who live outside the region and particularly those in metropolitan areas, heard reports of the fires burning out of control and immediately associated the Grampians with Halls Gap.
He said for many, it brought back daunting memories from the 2006 Mt Lubra bushfires.
"The reports are all saying sections of the Grampians are burning, which is quite right, but the problem is, because Halls Gap is the heart of the Grampians, everyone associates the Grampians as being Halls Gap," Mr Watts said.
"People just assume that the township is under threat from the fire."
Mr Watts said he had received several calls from people who had previously booked, but made enquiries about cancelling due to the fires.
"People who have booked for this weekend did phone us, but when they started to cancel, I assured them that everything was okay," Mr Watts said.
"I told them that if there was a threat, I would have phoned them and advised them not to come.
"Once I reassured the caller that everything was fine, they were okay with it and they didn't cancel.
"I do know of some in the area who have lost bookings though.
"When things like this happen, it is very frustrating for businesses, particularly the accommodation providers.
"There really is no danger here, so there's no sense telling anyone anything different."
Mr Watts said Halls Gap Tourism had worked hard to ensure the message reached far and wide, that the township is not closed and not under threat.
There are currently three fires burning in the southern end of the Grampians National Park. For safety purposes, Parks Victoria has closed the Victoria Valley and Victoria Range.
"It is business as usual in Halls Gap, which is quite removed from these fires at the southern end of the Grampians mountain range," Mr Watts said.
"Our town is always fire ready and safety conscious. The relevant authorities diligently communicate with businesses in the Grampians National Park during the fire season, so please continue to pursue and enjoy your holiday plans."
Mr Watts said cafes, restaurants, shopping and attractions like the Halls Gap Zoo, Brambuk and Grampians Adventure Mini Golf have been very popular with day-trippers and overnighters during the summer.
"The warm weather is a wonderful time to visit Halls Gap," he said.
"We have a magnificent community swimming pool, ice-creameries, playground, shady picnic areas and gentle bush walks starting from town."
Northern Grampians Shire Mayor, Cr Wayne Rice, echoed Mr Watts' call for visitors not to cancel their trip.
Cr Rice said Council had received an update from the Country Fire Authority and Victoria Police regarding the fire and future predictions, which clearly showed the northern end of the Grampians is not under immediate threat.
Cr Rice said in light of that information, the most important thing visitors can do for the people of the area is to continue supporting the many tourism-based businesses that operate in Halls Gap and the northern Grampians area.
"We are keen to reassure visitors that they will be safe if they visit us here," he said.
"The best thing you can do for us is to keep supporting our livelihoods and do not cancel your trip."
The slow-moving fire, burning in the Victoria Valley, has attracted widespread media attention as it is the largest in the state at present.
Cr Rice said the town of Halls Gap had been in a similar situation in the mid 2000s when fires in other parts of the national park, and the ensuing media attention, had seen a downturn in tourism.
"After the fires, Halls Gap experienced an economic downturn that affected businesses and we don't see a reason for this to happen again," he said.
"We can totally understand that people want to stay safe but keeping an eye on the CFA and emergency services websites will ensure you're up-to-date on where the fire threat is so you can avoid that area.
"The Grampians National Park covers a huge area and the fire is at the other end of the park, at least 30 kilometres from Halls Gap."