Despite a horror and tragic start to Australia's bushfire season, many popular regional tourist towns are declaring themselves open for business and calling for people to return.
Some of our favourite riding destinations along the East Gippsland and Murray to Mountains rail trails in Victoria are now facing devastating losses due to lack of visitors during their peak summer period.
We're calling on the bike riding community to take a day-trip or book a weekend away to help boost these struggling communities.
This weekend, jump in the car and take nothing other than your bike, a full wallet and open hearts.
It is easy to feel helpless during times of such mass devastation and despair, such as the bushfire crisis that has gripped Australia this summer.
As it so often does, the famed 'Aussie Spirit' of helping out your mate has blossomed in times of hardship, with donations continuing to pour in from right around the country and the world.
But there is one thing we can do, as Australians, that is at risk of being overlooked. And that is simply to be our normal selves.
Every summer, millions of Aussies head to holiday destinations to spend time with family and friends, enjoy the great outdoors, eat, drink, and most importantly... spend money.
Unfortunately, some of the most popular destinations, particularly in the East Gippsland region of Victoria and South Coast of New South Wales, were cut-off by the bushfires.
But many of them are now open and begging for business!
The holiday destinations of Lakes Entrance, Paynesville, Metung, Bairnsdale and many others are safe and up and running, but there's no holiday-makers in sight.
Business owners in these areas fear that well-meaning local and interstate vacationers will stay away for the rest of the summer – because they are unsure of the situation and don't want to get in the way of grieving and rebuilding.
It's heartbreaking to hear that even towns far away from the bushfires are struggling due to extremely low visitor numbers as a result of the fires.
But as Gippsland East MP Tim Bull told the Herald Sun “Our businesses have come off three years of drought and then copped this whack that has decimated the tourist season.
“For those who want to help, the best thing you can do is come visit us this summer.
“We can rebuild the houses, the fences and the bridges, but we need to rebuild the economy too. We need Victorians’ help to do that.”
For the bike riding community, many of our favourite destinations in the Alpine Shire and along the East Gippsland and Mountains to Murray rail trails need our help!
Social media movements like the #emptyesky campaign are hitting the heart of the issue.
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But we're calling on bike riders to not just go with empty eskies, but go with empty panniers, empty back packs, full wallets and open hearts.
Go with your bikes.
Bike tourism is a billion dollar industry in this country, and some of the businesses in these towns rely on the period between New Years and Australia Day for up to 50% of their annual business.
Alpine Shire Council has estimated the total economic loss from lack of visitors for the month of January to be $90 million due to the bushfires.
We urge all Australians to not put off your summer plans.
Don't assume – do your research on what towns are open via the VicEmergency or other equivalent app, or by contacting local councils, and get out there.
Destination Gippsland chief executive Terry Robinson has encouraged those planning a holiday to consider the Gippsland towns declared safe for the Australia Day, Labour Day and Easter breaks.
“For areas that lie closer to the fires, people can book now, pay now and travel later,” he said. “That way the business gets the benefit of cash injection now and the person booking can enjoy later knowing they have made a difference.”
Read: 'Riding in the fire season' for more info, including emergency apps to check where it is safe to ride across each state and territory.
Read: 'Should I ride in the smoke' for everything you need to know about riding during times of poor air quality.
There are a number of brilliant campaigns launched to help spread the word about the importance of holidaying at home to support these communities.
EMPTY ESKIES is a social media movement encouraging Australians to take #emptyeskies (and full wallets) on your holiday, filling up on local produce to support regional economies.
HOLIDAY HERE THIS YEAR is a Tourism Australia initiative with heaps of information and advice for supporting local communities impacted by the bushfires.
BUY FROM THE BUSH showcases some of the beautiful things crafted in Australia's struggling rural communities, and connects bush businesses with city customers. Similarly their sister account @stayinthebush promotes rural accommodation providers.
ROADTRIP FOR GOOD is a website that highlights fire-affected areas that are open and ready to welcome visitors once again, including a great interactive map listing areas and specific businesses that need our support.
SPEND WITH THEM aims to rebuild local economies by providing a platform for businesses impacted by bushfires to advertise their products online.
Header image from eastgippslandrailtrail.com.au