High accommodation prices are threatening the future of Port Fairy Folk Festival, the jewel in the south-west's events crown.
Festival survey data has revealed 40 per cent of respondents believe the cost of camping, hotel, motel and rental property prices are too high and that is partly to blame for declining ticket sales.
Festival president John Young said patrons in the past three years had been "highly critical" of the cost of accommodation around the Labour Day long weekend.
"Members of the committee have received comments from attendees that the cost of accommodation is too high and consequently they will not be returning in the future," he said.
"As a committee we are concerned about this and particularly with reduced ticket sales over the last two years we have been working hard to stem this."
Ticket data reveals numbers have dropped from 13,643 in 2016 to 11,747 this year. The 2019 patrons survey showed 40 per cent of respondents said accommodation was either "very expensive" or "a bit expensive".
One respondent said in 2018 their group had paid $5000 for three nights in a house, but in 2019 the owner had advised the price had increased to $6000 for the same length of stay.
"Camping has become insanely expensive. We can no longer afford to bring our cars due to the increasing prices of camping tickets", one ticket-holder said.
"Don't raise the price anymore, you'll kill the festival," another said.
"...Friends feedback was that accommodation has become so expensive they can take the family to an overseas resort for the same price, so that is what they do instead of attending Folkie," one wrote.
"I feel that the price of accommodation will kill the golden goose," another said.
"Prices in Port Fairy were excessive," one responder said.
"Accommodation is expensive and could be a big factor in ticket sales," another noted.
Mr Young said reduced ticket sales significantly affected the festival's viability, equating losses for the past two years to $420,000.
"While it is difficult to identify what has caused this reduction, there are probably several factors," he said.
"It can be considered that some of the lost tickets are due to people considering factors such as age, finances and change of personal situation. However survey results and comments tell us that while 90 per cent of respondents commented the program in 2018 and 2019 was very good to excellent, 40 per cent said accommodation costs were far too high. 40 per cent of 10,000 ticket holders is 4000 people.
"It cannot be ignored that a significant response from festival goers is very critical of the high cost in Port Fairy at festival time and it must be impacting heavily on people's choices to attend or not attend.
"We need to work as a community to achieve long-term sustainability of the festival and to therefore adjust financial expectations to reflect the current socio-economic climate to arrest any further decline in patronage to both the community and the festival."
Moyne Shire runs the Gardens and Southcombe caravan parks, which are filled with festival goers. Some survey respondents criticised the cost of camping and the state of amenities.
Chief executive officer Bill Millard defended the charges.
"I don't see that they are too expensive," he said.
"We are about $40 per head for the three days, so $120 for three days per person which is probably the cheapest accommodation available I would think. I looked at the last four years and there has been very moderate increases, around CPI.
"There was certainly some feedback around the quality of the ablutions blocks and we will certainly take that feedback. I'm pretty confident that we are not too far off the mark. The survey detail is gold to get that level of feedback from customers.
"The other feedback was around the cost for a second vehicle (on camp sites). It's around $50, but from our perspective, if you look at Southcombe which has 2800 people, and people seeking somewhere between 800 or 1000 extra vehicles, I really don't want them interacting with people in the park, I would rather cars park elsewhere."
Mr Millard said the shire was "incredibly invested in the sustainability of the festival in the long term".
"We all want a sustainable festival and in the longer term we have a role in helping with that," he said.
He said the shire could not force prices of other accommodation options.
"A good thing would be to have a broader discussion around accommodation of which we are a party."