Still tourism gold in the Hill
AFTER months of dealing with the challenges of a global pandemic, Ballarat attraction Sovereign Hill, is set to reopen on the last day of October.
Having endured financial and operational impacts of COVID-19, CEO of the tourist park Sara Quon said the team are excited to once again deliver a familiar experience to regional.
“We’ve worked tirelessly through this time to ensure the safety of our staff, the volunteers, getting ready to reopen for visitors which has driven the decision making in the immediate term,” she said.
“There will be a layer of COVID safety like contact tracing, additional hygiene measures in place and we will operate with a limited capacity, around 20 per cent of our normal capacity.
“Much-loved activities like the troopers, the redcoats, panning for gold and horse rides will all be available with small changes for social distancing and hygiene measures and our retail stores will be open and the street will be brought to life by our costume interpreters.”
Although these key activities central to the Sovereign Hill visitor experience are continuing, other demonstrations including the mine tour and the gold pour are unable to go ahead.
However, Ms Quon said she is hopeful the park will be able to run all operations and indoor experiences as soon as possible.
“We’re confident that it will be a great and familiar visitor experience for everyone,” she said.
“We have 20 square meters per person for everyone coming to visit, it’s an optimistic open air experience that will still be familiar that people love.
“We’re recognising people want to come together to socialise safely and that’s why we’re doing pre-bookings with the limited capacity and checking residential addresses.”
To coincide with the Melbourne Cup weekend, the park has already begun retailing tickets for the final weekend in October in the hopes of drawing in regional families.
“We reopen on Saturday 31 October and we are treating the Melbourne Cup weekend as a four-day weekend so we’ll then be open until Tuesday 3 November,” Ms Quon said.
“We’ll celebrate our reopening with our regional communities over that weekend before commencing only weekend trading from then until Boxing Day when we will open seven days again.
“We want to be as accessible as possible financially for our community so we have reset our price point with adult tickets at $39, children at $20 and a family at $99.”
While visitors, staff and volunteers of the park are excited for its reopening, the wider tourism industry breathes a sigh of relief.
Ms Quon said she’s conscious that in Ballarat and Western Victoria that Sovereign Hill opening is quite symbolic of regional tourism moving forward.
“It’s critically important to our accommodation providers and hospitality venues,” she said.
“We’re looking forward to working closely as an industry on our recovery and to collaborating with the City of Ballarat to get our industry and our town into recovery mode.”
Owner of Sovereign Park Motor Inn Tim Canny said seeing the park reopen is a small step in the road to recovery for Ballarat and for all the accommodation providers.
“We’re only 700 meters away from Sovereign Hill so they are a huge drawcard for us and we’re fortunate to have Sovereign Hill as popular and appealing as it is,” he said.
“It means a lot because we’re all suffering with very low occupancy and have been for a long time.
“We’ve already had some inquiries and bookings for people who have tickets to Sovereign Hill and we anticipate that these school holidays will be strong, provided that Melbourne is open, we’re looking forward to being busy again.”
While the prospect of boosting tourism and accommodation rates in town is exciting for Sovereign Hill’s staff, Ms Quon said that they are most looking forward to reconnecting with visitors.
“It’s the best possible optimistic step forward for our team who love what they do engaging with visitors and supporting a great visitor experience which they haven’t been able to do for a long time,” she said.
“We’re excited to continue sharing our collective experiences throughout this time but also being able to help people to have some joy and expression back in their lives.”