City-focused travel vouchers finally land

By David Schout & Sean Car

CBD hotel and hospitality owners are hopeful new state government incentives will help inject desperately-needed cash through their businesses. 

Some 40,000 vouchers worth $200 each were snapped up in just four minutes in March as part of the “Melbourne Travel Voucher Scheme”, a program the government hopes will provide a “shot in the arm” for the city after a difficult 12 months. 

After two rounds of regional travel incentives, the latest vouchers were the first to focus on Greater Melbourne, and are expected to be heavily used within the CBD and surrounding areas.

Valid from March 19 to May 16, each voucher’s value ($200) will be reimbursed to users provided they spend $400 or more on accommodation, attractions or experiences, and must spend a minimum of two nights in paid accommodation.

James Fry, owner of unique rooftop caravan operator Notel on Flinders Lane, said a Melbourne-specific program was much-needed and would help his business. 

“Our thoughts on the voucher scheme are pretty positive, especially as the regional incentive worked so well,” Mr Fry said.

“Anything to bring a buzz back to the city would be welcomed by not only us but by every small business who had to navigate 2020. The scheme should really help us, especially mid-week which I am sure all accommodation providers in the city can relate to.”

Mr Fry said his business — where visitors were housed in one of six refitted vintage US Airstream caravans atop a CBD rooftop — was starting to bounce back after a protracted lean period.

“Lately, things have been pretty good however the circuit breaker lockdown was a massive setback having to cancel a fully booked five days. There is only so much that a small business can take and our hearts break for all the doors that won’t be reopening in 2021.”

The government reported that 52,000 claimants in the first round of regional vouchers spent an estimated $85 million across the state.

Tourism Minister Martin Pakula said the government had hoped for similar success in the city. 

“These vouchers will deliver a significant boost to tourism operators and will mean even more people have the chance to experience the best of Melbourne,” Mr Pakula said. 

“Whether it’s a staycation or a visit from regional Victoria, there’s never been a better time to lose yourself in marvellous Melbourne.”

FOMO launch

“Get to the city or get FOMO” is the City of Melbourne’s latest bid to rejuvenate CBD visitors (the acronym means ‘fear of missing out’ for the uninitiated). 

In what the council has dubbed its “most significant promotional campaign in a decade”, the five-month advertising blitz will look to attract people from across the state to Melbourne to start spending in the city.

It is fronted by Sri Lankan-Australian comic Dilruk Jayasinha, who throughout the advertisements is seen racing around Melbourne trying to experience everything the re-opened city has to offer.

“This is the most significant promotional campaign we’ve delivered in a decade because it’s so important to draw people back to the city and get cash registers ringing again,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said. 

“Melbourne is at its best when people come together to participate in the amazing experiences on offer, whether it’s fine dining, an international film festival, a live music event or a fashion show.”

Council help saves two in five businesses

Meanwhile, the City of Melbourne’s business support initiatives during the pandemic have been roundly praised after 38 per cent of businesses said they would not still be operating without the support.

An independent survey into the support — which has included grants, a business concierge hotline and virtual support summit — reported that 89 per cent of business said it had had a direct positive impact.

A total of 675 local businesses were surveyed throughout January and February, and Cr Capp said the response endorsed the council’s support. 

“The past 12 months have been the toughest trading conditions in living memory for many businesses and that’s why it was so critical to deliver timely and valuable support to help keep Melburnians in jobs,” the Lord Mayor said.

“The feedback from traders is that these programs helped them keep operating and promoted their business during the COVID pandemic.

“Many businesses indicated that the grants helped to keep their teams together or get the right equipment to keep customers safe.”

Cr Capp said the “loud and clear” message from traders was that only through the return of workers and visitors to the CBD could businesses survive and thrive.

Funding boost for inner city events 

The Victorian Government and the City of Melbourne also announced a $5 million investment in events, helping to draw people into the city while supporting jobs and businesses in March.

The Rising Festival, Winter Night Market, the World’s Longest Brunch, and Jurassic World Brickman Exhibition were just some of the events to receive support from the joint $100 million Melbourne City Recovery Fund.

More than 100 events will receive funding support, helping to attract a combined audience of up to five million people – which will deliver a major boost to small businesses in the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors.

Across the two grant rounds, 108 events have received funding support, with 83 new grants announced today worth $4.5 million. A further 25 grants worth almost $500,000 were announced in December 2020.

More than 1300 diners attended the World’s Longest Brunch from the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival during the weekend of March 13 and 14, a three-course brunch in the Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton Gardens designed by Kate Reid of Lune Croissanterie and Nathan Toleman, Melbourne’s cafe king.

The applications were assessed by the City of Melbourne with advice from Creative Victoria and Visit Victoria.

Some of the events to receive funding include:

  • Melbourne 5km Run 2021 – March 27 
  • Run the Tan – April 24
  • Melbourne Cocktail Festival – April 12 to 18
  • Jurassic World, Brickman Exhibition – April 1 to July 18
  • Cat Lovers Show – May 1 to 2
  • Rising Festival – May 26 to June 6
  • Oz Comic Con Melbourne – July 3 to 4 
  • Winter Night Market, Queen Victoria Market – June 3 to August 25
  • Melbourne Good Food Month 2021 – June 1 to 30
  • Lonsdale Street Day Party – November 20 to 21
  • Spring into Kensington – November 6

“Delivering events creates jobs at this critical time for our economy. Every event creates work for tradies, technicians, creatives, hospitality staff and many others so we will continue to invest in the sector,” the council’s city activation portfolio chair Cr Roshena Campbell said. 

“Having an exciting program of events also allows more Melburnians to rediscover the magic of our city.”

“There’s never been a more important time to invest in events to reactivate our city and get our streets pumping with life again.”

“Love Local” sticker campaign explored

The City of Melbourne is understood to be exploring the possibility of a “Love Local” sticker campaign with local businesses and residents in the CBD in response to COVID-19, as seen in other municipalities. 

Under the campaign, participating businesses would place a sticker in their window to attract local residents with exclusive offers. 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the idea had been submitted to the council and it would consider how it could best deliver results for the city. 

“We welcome fresh ideas on how we can reactivate the city and bring the buzz back to Melbourne,” the Lord Mayor said.

 “There are almost 180,000 people who call the City of Melbourne home and our residents are an integral part of our municipality.”

 “We work closely with residents groups, precinct associations and local businesses and want them to collaborate as much as possible.”

 “A great example is the Kensington Business Association’s ‘Discover Kensington’ gift card program that rewards residents who shop close to home and encourages them to support local businesses.”

 “We are supporting all local precinct associations with an additional $100,000 in funding to support activations like this.” •

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