Tourism operators in Halls Gap have been left shocked and angry after Victoria's latest lockdown ruined what would have been one of their biggest and busiest weekends of the year.
The region had been a hive of activity earlier this year and was set to be a popular destination for tourists, families and couples as people visited the Grampians for a quick family getaway or a romantic weekend.
But on Friday, February 12, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a snap five-day lockdown to help the state's authorities contain a growing hotel quarantine outbreak in Melbourne, which has left business operators like Halls Gap Zoo owner Greg Cullel fuming.
"We have lost $45,000 straight off the bat, that's our direct loss and there will be more," he said.
"I was sitting there in absolute shock and horror of our incompetent governance going on to allow another COVID-19 hotel outbreak.
"Yet again we have had our businesses compromised by blithering incompetence."
Mr Cullel said another lockdown was going to have lasting financial impacts on businesses in the region, especially after he had to sell his home and farm last year to help the zoo survive.
"We have lost five days of trade. We have had five days of beautiful weather during February which is something you pray for and with Valentine's Day we have had to refund a heap of money to people to pre-book for animal encounters," he said.
"Plus online sales have gone from an average of $2000 a day to nothing and yet I am still paying 24 wages. It is an absolute disaster and if the virus hadn't gotten out of hotel quarantine there wouldn't be an issue.
"I'm not crying poor, the business will survive, but the issue is there is no reason for this to happen.
"The psychological impacts, we had to sell a farm and the house we lived in to get over the last balls-up in hotel quarantine, so the psychological damage it has done to me and Yvonne is immense.
"We have been absolutely flattened by this again and why should we as business people keep paying for this government's incompetence.
"I want people to know how destructive this is to businesses and people due to their incompetency."
Mr Cullel said he knows tourism in the region will bounce back and he hopes businesses owners will too.
"We are so hopeless in this situation. We spend money and we generate and build businesses, but the rug just keeps getting pulled out from underneath us," he said.
"People will come back, people need to have a break from their day-to-day lives and people need to get out and enjoy life and we will all bounce back from this financially, but it is the emotional strain that is really hard and that is what we are finding really devastating."
Grampians Tourism chief executive officer Marc Sleeman said some tourism operators in the region would face 'catastrophic' financial impacts as a result of this lockdown.
"The region was full and fully booked for Valentine's weekend, so to have this at short notice and have our region locked down has had a major economic impact on all businesses," he said.
"Any day that we go into lockdown has catastrophic economic impacts for all businesses across the region, so the sooner we can get out of lockdown, the better for our operators.
"Some of the impacts people probably don't realise is all the fresh food a lot of business bought in to cater for the big weekend will obviously go to waste and get thrown out.
"You had restaurants that were gearing up for six or seven hundred meals over the weekend and now those visitors are gone and we have found quite a lot of have closed up and are just looking to ride this lockdown out.
"We are calling for all our business partners to ensure they are following the rules and regulations to help our economy open again as soon as possible."
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