Gum San disappointment
Published in The Ararat Advocate, Ararat's weekly newspaper published by West Vic News Pty Ltd.
CARAVAN park owners and Ararat residents are questioning the opening arrangements of the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre.
The tourist attraction is owned and operated by the Ararat Rural City Council and tells the story of Ararat’s birth, the only city in Australia founded by the Chinese.
Before the pandemic, Gum San opened seven days a week between 11am and 4pm. It was closed last March when the pandemic hit and reopened for group bookings at the start of this month.
Council says the attraction is not closed despite some confusion within the community, but said it has not reopened the venue to pre-COVID arrangements because of a lack of interest.
“There has been a total of one group with 24 visitors [since March 1]. There are around six other groups booked over the next six weeks,” Ararat Rural City Council CEO, Dr Tim Harrison said.
“This is not indicating high levels of demand for the attraction.”
The suggestion of low interest has been rejected by the owners of Ararat’s caravan parks, who have felt the opposite sentiment from tourists left disappointed by the inability to walk in and enjoy the attraction.
“It's one less thing for people to do when they're here,” said Acacia Caravan Park owner, Kaylene Linsley.
“We can only go by what the people coming here and staying are talking about or asking about. We actually have people specifically ask about the Chinese museum.”
When contacted by the Advocate, Mrs Linsley was unaware of the attraction’s new group booking option, and she questioned how Council expected operators to find out about the arrangement.
“I had no clue, as far as I knew it was shut and they were going through and organising all their exhibits, cataloguing it and photographing it,” she said.
G’Day Parks Ararat owner, Samantha Rickinson, said she had seen significant interest from guests staying at her park. She had six couples ask just last weekend about Gum San.
Locals who wish to remain anonymous have also questioned the arrangements and why the venue remains closed as Council attempts to attract tourists through schemes such as its new Ambassador Program.
Mrs Linsley at Acacia Caravan Park said if attractions like Gum San are closed, why would anyone be wanting to stay in Ararat?
“It is frustrating, especially when people are coming to the area and we're doing our part in bringing people to Ararat,” she said.
Dr Harrison said Council will decide on an extension of opening arrangements as the COVID-19 situation becomes clearer and based on demand.
“The demand for booked tours has not been high and there have been relatively few inquiries which indicate a weaker demand for Gum San,” Dr Harrison said.
“Demand, as well as the availability and safety of volunteers and staff will also be taken into consideration.”
Both caravan park owners said tourists have been additionally frustrated by the closure of the Tourist Information Centre – sourcing information from park owners as an alternative.