GREAT Ocean Road visitation was slashed by more than half in 2020, with latest figures further highlighting the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on tourism.
Twelve Apostles visitor numbers fell from 2.2 million in 2019 to just 791,292 in 2020 - a drop of more than 1.4 million people.
There were 180,113 less visitors in December alone in 2020, from 277,220 to 97,107.
Loch Ard Gorge saw around 859,000 less visitors, down from 1.3 million people to 451,855.
In December visitation to the Gorge fell from 150,337 to just 47,464.
A Warrnambool City Council spokesman said the numbers are "sobering" and demonstrate the impact of local and international travel restrictions put in place as a result of the pandemic.
"More encouragingly, what we have seen is that as travel restrictions have eased Victorians have rapidly embraced the notion of holidaying closer to home," he said.
"Anecdotally, we are enjoying a busy summer here in Warrnambool and the activity in our CBD shows that our local businesses have been quick to adapt to requirements around staying COVID-safe.
"We can't expect the visitor numbers to destinations including the Twelve Apostles to change dramatically while international travel is restricted.
"Compared to some other LGAs, Warrnambool is less dependent on international visitors.
"In 2021 we can prepare for a return to a new normal and encourage everyone to celebrate and share all that is unique and attractive about the Great South Coast."
This year the Great Ocean Road region received around 4.2 million domestic (overnight and daytrip) and international overnight visitors combined, who spent an estimated $1.1 billion in the year ending September 2020.
Domestic overnight spending was estimated to be $863 million, a drop of 17 per cent year-on-year, with visitors spending an average of $140 per night and $491 per visitor.
Daytrip visitors spent an estimated $221 million, a decrease of 40 per cent compared to the previous year and international overnight expenditure was estimated to be $55 million, a decrease of 49 per cent.
'Disgrace': Small Great Ocean Road town feeling impact of pandemic
The ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic are weighing heavy on the small Great Ocean Road hamlet of Princetown.
Tucked away just a few kilometres from the iconic Twelve Apostles and Gibson's Steps, the town would usually play host to busloads of tourists and backpackers stopping through on their journey down the Great Ocean Road.
But the pandemic has forced every business to shut its doors, leaving locals and visitors alike without anywhere to get even a cup of coffee in town - that is, until just a few days ago, when Simpson locals Paul Robertson and Wendy McNail set up a coffee and hot food caravan in town.
The couple originally set up outside Port Campbell but after some local shops complained to the council they received a permit to start trading in Princetown.
"There's nothing open in Princetown, the locals instead have to drive to Port Campbell which is a 20 minute trip each way," Mr Robertson said.
"We spoke to the backpackers here and they welcomed us with open arms to set up in their carpark.
"We shop local, we buy all our products from Cobden, Camperdown and Timboon.
"We've been shut down since COVID-19, we couldn't take the van anywhere because there were no markets or holiday parks open. We thought we would take the plunge with this in the hopes we get some support, the locals are happy they now have an option to get a feed or a coffee."
Princetown local Monika Loving said it was a relief to see some business back in town.
"Especially for the backpackers and camping ground, visitors used to have the option of going to the Tavern for a night meal but now everything is closed, with COVID they've had to bail out," she said.
"It's good for the town to see something open, because we're so small our voice is non-existent but Princetown has lots of things going for it.
"We're battling to survive."
Princetown Recreation Reserve committee president Darin Blain said camping numbers had fallen at the reserve without international and interstate travelers.
"It's a disgrace that there's nothing here and a hell of a shame," he said.
"I'm really pleased for Paul and Wendy and hope they go well.
"With the amount of people buying camper trailers and vans and camping gear we hope people will travel within their own states and country, that would be really good for the local economy."
Summer tourism boost welcomed but fears remain as school holidays draw to a close
Port Campbell was a "ghost town" just six months ago with its vital international tourism market wiped.
The town has enjoyed a much-needed boost in visitor numbers this summer, with Victorians seizing the opportunity to travel intrastate.
12 Rocks Port Campbell manager Kelly Thompson said the town felt as busy as last summer.
"We only close one day a week and it's been busy, it feels the same as last year," she said. "There's a lot of locals and Victorians travelling to this region, it's been really good.
"Chinese New Year usually brings buses and heaps of people to town so we don't know what that will look like, but January has been great so far.
"If we didn't have JobKeeper last year things would have been pretty awful, Port Campbell was a ghost town in the middle of last year."
Cafe on Lords worker Ann Thorton said having essential workers in town through the pandemic was a lifeline for local businesses.
"We stayed open through 2020 as there were lots of tradies," she said. "The initial two weeks we were closed but there were lots of houses being built so we were lucky to stay open.
"It was still pretty quiet but we did generate enough to remain trading.
"The summer has been pretty good even with no international visitors, I think lots of people have been travelling in Victoria and picked up a lot of the slack.
"We're hoping people will keep travelling around when the kids go back to school."
Local support has been vital for Grassroots Deli Cafe.
"We get a lot of local support and regular customers which has meant our numbers haven't been down much at all," chef Brendan Thomson said. "Trip Advisor helps too.
"Before the QR code system came in we could see where people were from and there were a lot from Melbourne.
"We're expecting the long weekend to be very busy, but it's all a bit weather-dependent."
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