WAGGA’S hotels and restaurants have relished a substantial boom in tourism over the Easter weekend.
Scores of small-scale events have injected millions into the local economy with families choosing to stay home over the long-weekend.
Council estimates visitorship numbers ballooned by approximately 40 per cent – with the highly-touted Illuminate festival earmarked as a potential catalyst.
Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory owner Neil Druce said his business was booming over Easter and he imagines businesses in surrounding towns also experienced a spike in activity.
“It was definitely a busy one,” he said.
“I think people are starting to realise the benefits of being in a regional town over the Easter break.
“It’s much more easygoing and there’s still a lot of things to indulge in.”
Tourists were certainly indulging in chocolate, with Mr Druce’s Junee landmark attracting more than 1000 visitors each day of the long-weekend.
Emilia Crawford, a Wagga mother-of-two who stayed home for Easter, was relieved she chose not to travel to Sydney over Easter.
“There wasn’t anything mind-blowing or spectacular but sometimes I feel like that’s better,” she said.
“Easter should be more about seeing family and friends, but having a little bit of fun also.
“We would not have enjoyed spending most the weekend in traffic.”
One of the weekend’s biggest drawing cards was Wagga’s first ever light festival, which despite receiving mixed reviews, welcomed more than 6000 visitors on Easter Saturday.
Organiser Tim McMullen said the increase in Wagga’s tourism was a promising sign for the future.
“The fact is the event drew from the cities and the outer region and the impact on Wagga’s tourism is what we are focusing on,” he said.
“We had some positive feedback too but we will take the criticism, address the issues and come back with a better show next Easter.
“It’s great to see that a lot of people stayed in Wagga.”
It comes after Wagga City Council made the decision to leave the Riverina Regional Tourism brand, joining Riverina Murray Destination Network instead.
Mates Gully owner Paul Nolte said Wagga had a lot to offer tourists, with many attractions that Sydney couldn’t meet.
“We blow their minds when visitors come from Sydney or Melbourne, you just don’t see this in the cities,” Mr Nolte said.
“There are all of these diverse little places nearby with something to offer, like Coolamon, Junee and Temora and we’re right in the middle.”