RETAILERS and businesses in the LGBTI-centric suburb of Darlinghurst are ramping up efforts to attract visitors this month after the popular Vivid Sydney light festival once again overlooked the inner-city neighbourhood.

Tomorrow night, travellers and locals will be encouraged to eschew Vivid in favour of tours of the art, food and fashion that can be found just off Oxford St.

Last year, an estimated 1.5 million people attended Vivid — billed as a “festival of light, music and ideas” — which has grown to become the city’s largest winter festival.

Originally centred on the Sydney Opera House, the state government-run festival has steadily expanded and can now be found in suburbs including Erskineville, Chippendale, Pyrmont and even Chatswood which is about 10 kilometres from the CBD.

However, moves to bring the festival’s striking night time projections and light sculptures the few kilometres from the harbour to Surry Hills, Potts Point or Darlinghurst have so far failed which a local business leader claims is due to the high cost of becoming a “Vivid festival precinct”.

“Everyone was a bit surprised when we found out Vivid would cost a quarter of million dollars,” Darlinghurst Business Partnership president Stephan Gyory told the Star Observer.

“Especially bearing in mind we don’t have a company to go cap in hand to, to raise the funds.”

A look at the Vivid website shows most of the newer precincts are backed by big names including Westfield at Chatswood, The Star casino at Pyrmont and Japan’s largest developer Sekisui House in Chippendale’s Central Park complex.

While not part of a major light show or in a Vivid precinct, the iconic Imperial Hotel in Erskineville – popular with LGBTI punters – is participating in the music arm of the festival with nightly events in its bar and lounge areas.

The Oxford Art Factory venue on Oxford St is also presenting a nine night program of live music performances.

“How does Surry Hills, Potts Point and Darlinghurst compete with that?” said Gyory, who accused the festival of showcasing central Sydney which is already popular with tourists but ignoring nearby neighbourhoods that could benefit from the exposure.

“We’re probably a $1 billion economy but we’re all small businesses.”

Vivid organisers Destination NSW said “additional external sponsorship” had facilitated the festival’s expansion beyond central Sydney.

They did not deny $250,000 was a minimum amount needed to become a festival precinct.

“Destination NSW is always open to receiving proposals from other locations with a view to expanding the Vivid Sydney footprint,” a statement from the organisation said.

“There are of course commercial considerations… which are a significant factor when the addition of a new precinct is proposed.”

To drag visitors east, local business are highlighting the suburb’s events under the “Do Darlo” banner, including late night shopping parties and innovative local collaborations such as the Liquorice Pizza vinyl market where music lovers can buy, sell and swap records within a local bar.

The area was looking to attract “travellers not tourists,” and favoured year-round reasons to visit rather than one-off major events — such as Hyde Park’s food and wine fair — which Gyory said drew people away from Darlinghurst.

“Our small businesses are not actually selling products,” he said.

“We’re selling the professionalism, uniqueness and the experience of our retailers.”

On Thursday, visitors will be encouraged to take part in Illuminate Oxford, a series of walking tours through hidden Darlinghurst.

Supported by the City of Sydney, walkers will visit local artists, independent retailers and indulge in beverages at small bars.

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