ARARAT needs to do more if it is to survive the planned Western Highway bypass, say business and tourist operators.
The highway was originally scheduled to open in 2022 but has been repeatedly delayed by protests and court cases.
Friends of J Ward member Pauline Roberts- who plays a pivotal role in running tours at J Ward and Aradale, which draws thousands of tourists to the town each year - said the town needed to do more to market itself to those tourists.
"Too many of our restaurants close on a weekend and it's dead," she said.
"I don't know how you get the little businesses (in Ararat) to stay open. Mansfield (in the state's east) is smaller than Ararat in population, but you virtually don't get a car spot in the main street (on a Sunday) because every cafe is open and it's just a bustle."
Greater Ararat Business Network president and Ararat RSL manager Maria Whitford said businesses needed to be on the same page to ensure the region's long-term economic viability.
"We need this town to realise we're in the tourism industry, and if we can do that then it's step one," she said.
"Whilst the RSL has benefited from most of our hospitality outlets closing on weekends, it's going to have a long-term effect for us because people will stop coming to Ararat. If they can only get a meal at the RSL every Easter, they're just going to keep driving.
"We need businesses to keep their doors open and trade for the people coming through. Supporting all of those businesses and having them together on the same page is vital to the growth and sustainability of the whole region."
Ararat Rural City Council is developing a strategy called Ararat in Transit that will look at these issues and will host a meetingon Thursday night to gather community feedback.
"Council is keen to develop a strategic plan for this development and it's vital to get the input of key stakeholders such as service authorities, business owners, landowners and developers," chief executive Tim Harrison said.
"Business owners and employers are a vital part of this project so we hope they can come along next Thursday night. As a key employment driver directly impacting and impacted by these changes, we want to hear from them about the role they play in Ararat's future population and economic growth."
The Ararat in Transition project session for business owners will be held on Thursday 13 February from 5.30pm at the Leopold Hotel, Barkly Street, Ararat.
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