Astonishing new figures reveal the Orange region welcomed a record-breaking number of visitors in the months following coronavirus lockdowns last year, bucking trends as the rest of the state went backwards after restrictions eased.
Numbers plucked from the National Visitor Survey, released periodically by Tourism Research Australia, indicate the September 2020 quarter was the Orange region's busiest on record in terms of domestic overnight visitors.
An estimated 177,000 visitors stayed in Orange, Blayney and Cabonne for approximately 475,000 nights during the September quarter, marking an astounding rise of 111 per cent compared to the same period in 2019.
The rest of Australia is finding out the secret of Orange, Cabonne and Blayney - how beautiful our cities are.Orange City Councillor Jeff Whitton
The numbers - incredible considering restrictions only eased on June 1 - also equate to the fourth highest of any quarter on record, with those visitors collectively pumping an estimated $100 million into the local economy.
Orange360 general manager Caddie Marshall gleefully announced the numbers at Robertson Park on Thursday morning, noting the rise came amid an estimated decline of 28 per cent across the rest of the Central West.
"It's been such a difficult time for the tourism industry. However, the figures show there is actually a huge appetite and confidence in regional travel and we're grateful to be on the receiving end of that here in the Orange region," she said.
"We've certainly bucked the trend. It's a credit to ... the hard work of our Orange360 members and our tourism operators, who were able to very quickly pivot and be ready to welcome guests when restrictions were relaxed."
Ms Marshall was flanked by Orange City Councillor Jeff Whitton, also an Orange360 director, and Orange City Council tourism manager Glenn Mickle on Thursday, who were equally jubilant.
"The rest of Australia is finding out the secret of Orange, Cabonne and Blayney - how beautiful our cities are," Cr Jeff Whitton said.
"We were coming off a pretty low ebb, but once those restrictions lifted we needed extra staff, we were working extra hours - our revolving door even needed an extra service," Mr Mickle laughed.
Cr Whitton went as far as saying September quarter visitors 'saved a lot of businesses and jobs' in the region, the fact many were operating at limited capacity makes the numbers all the more impressive.
Ms Marshall explained statistics showed a huge number of 50-plus tourists landing at Orange along with plenty of people relocating to work remotely while they could, with Mr Mickle agreeing.
"Particularly over the July school holidays. As they were able to work [remotely], people were able to spend a week or two weeks here which is really new and refreshing," Ms Marshall said.
"Anecdotally we've heard the average visitor would be stayed for three days, that came through in the statistics as well."
"We were taking record numbers of phone calls and emails. There was also a lot of first-time visitors which is why we saw so many people in the information centre," Mr Mickle said.
"A lot of people were just curious about Orange and didn't have an agenda. Certainly the combination of the wine and food is a flag that flies high for visitors."
The numbers were extracted from the National Visitor Survey and made available by Orange City Council's tourism research partner Tourism Solutions.
With demand expected to continue, Ms Marshall said Orange360 will continue working with councils in a bid to increase capacity for dining options.
She also forecast 'an increase of 25 per cent of new accommodation opening up over the next 18 to 24 months'.
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