ARARAT - Visitors have flocked to the Ararat region during the Christmas/New Year period, with the Grampians, lakes and Ararat's museums big draw cards.
Staff and volunteers at the Ararat and Grampians Visitor Information Centre have been run off their feet, with more than 2600 people visiting the centre in December and already more than 1800 in January.
In December, visitor numbers totalled 2672, compared to 1639 for the same period in 2011, while already this year visitor numbers have surpassed the figure attained for the whole of January in 2012, with 1852 tourists seeking information at the Ararat Railway Station premises compared to 1843 in January last year.
International visitors totalled 180 in December compared to 166 the previous year and 66 so far this January compared to 196 last year, with German visitors far more prevalent than any other nationality.
Ararat Rural City Council visitor services team leader Kim Kerr said this year the increase in tourist numbers was exciting for the region.
"It's a huge jump, which has been lovely, and I feel it's been a spin off from the Grampians, we are seeing people coming back for day trips," she said.
Ms Kerr said there has been a specific increase in Australian visitors to the Ararat region and believes recent comments in the Ararat Advertiser/Stawell Times News from tourist operators in Halls Gap that an increase in domestic travel has been a spin off from the Global Financial Crisis has some merit.
"People can't afford to even go to Queensland, I think we're getting a lot of Melbourne and country Victoria visitors, there's an increase in those," she said.
"I think they're staying nearer to home, with the cost of flights having an effect on that. People are taking less time off and travelling closer to home.
"There is also a huge trend this year in caravans and campers, with lots of families around this area. Once upon a time it was the grey nomads and people travelling from overseas. Australia wide we have seen a huge increase this year in families travelling, campers, lots of campers."
Green Hill lake continues to be a popular attraction, particularly with campers
Ms Kerr said with the free camping facilities there were many return visitors and over the Christmas New Year period Visitor Information Centre staff counted 100 campsites.
While the water level is lower this and some campers complained of the smell, Ms Kerr said it was still a great facility.
"People love coming back and hopefully we get some rain and people will continue to come back because we do get great feedback about Green Hill Lake, they love it."
Further south at Lake Bolac, visitor information staff have recorded a slight increase in visitor numbers this year, although campers have flocked to the lakeside for camping and water sport activities.
Ms Kerr said in Ararat J Ward and Aradale continue to attract big tourist numbers to Ararat, while the ghost tours at both J Ward and Aradale are particularly popular, with the night time tours encouraging people to stay overnight in Ararat and take advantage of other attractions.
The Grampians has been particularly popular this year after a number of slow years attributable to the fires and floods in the region.
Ms Kerr said with many of the walks open in the Grampians now after extensive flood repair works, people were flocking back to see the improvements.
With the region sweltering through a 'real' summer this year, people staying in the Grampians are taking advantage of Ararat's facilities which are away from the hot sun.
"We have a brochure which Grampians Tourism have put out about what to see in the area on hot days. So people will come to Ararat and do cooler activities like J Ward, Gum San and the Astor theatre, even our library increases its numbers, and there's also shopping, it's all got to help," Ms Kerr said.