Gourmet Escape festival future could include Swan Valley

After months of speculation over the future of the event, the Margaret River Gourmet Escape has been given the green light to continue for another year – with a few changes. 

Announced early on Thursday morning by Tourism Minister Paul Papalia and Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan, the new funding arrangement will see the region retain the popular food festival, considered by many to provide global valuable destination marketing for the region and the state.

The deal sees international management giant IMG Culinary maintain control for another year, while a new plan could see the Swan Valley – as well as other potential WA locations –  incorporated into the festival. 

The future of Gourmet Escape has been unknown since early this year when Papalia confirmed the event was in doubt, with the McGowan government searching for solutions to continue a number of projects and events in the South West.

Last weekend’s festival was the final installment in a three year contract between the ex-Barnett Liberal government and international management company, IMG Culinary.

Mr Papalia said the new approach would see consultation with tourism operators and local producers to determine the “final specifications” for Gourmet Escape.

“With the current three-year agreement ending, the State Government decided it was the right time to explore opportunities to grow efforts in food and wine event tourism and maximise outcomes for the State,” he said.

“It gives us the chance to look at expanding and extending the festival to feature not only the South-West but also the Swan Valley.”

Importantly the event has also introduced some of the world’s top restaurants to WA wines and produce. The international exposure this creates could not be bought in advertising dollar.

Justin Clarke, IMG Culinary

Mr Papalia said care needed to be taken to ensure food tourism events, which the Government plans to focus on growing in the future, directed visitors to WA.

“We also want a clear strategy for food and wine festivals that enhances our trade and agricultural export outcomes. We want to ensure that the high-quality local food and wine at these events is readily available to be served on tables in China, Singapore, Japan and other key markets.”

IMG Culinary Senior Vice President & Managing Director Justin Clarke said the Margaret River region was the perfect home for Gourmet Escape.

“With its stellar wine credentials and amazing local food offerings and producers, the event has quickly become the envy of the culinary world.

“The review process comes at a great time, allowing us to review the program, expand and implement new initiatives from a local and global perspective to drive visitor economy and business outcomes for the region and WA.

“In 2016 alone, the international and interstate visitor nights grew by 30 per cent, with the average length of stay in the region at 5.2 nights and a total of 24,500 visitor nights booked across the region during the festival period.”

Mr Clarke said the event had welcomed over 95,000 visitors across the six year history, and gave the region an opportunity to shine to an audience of millions.

“Over 160 of the world’s best chefs and culinary luminaries have entertained crowds and made lifelong friends with local chefs, producers and venue owners.

“Importantly the event has also introduced some of the world’s top restaurants to West Australian wines and produce.

“The international exposure this creates could not be bought in advertising dollars.”

Mr Clarke added that the global reach of a company such as IMG Culinary gave the region access to celebrities and food connections that others may not offer.

“Throughout the year IMG Culinary is launching and hosting food events around the globe – most recently Hong Kong and San Francisco - and its ‘Taste Festivals’ series are now held in 20 countries,” he said. 

“This enables IMG to be working constantly with incredible global talent who they then have direct access to invite to Margaret River.”

Ms MacTiernan said the plan was to extend the festival both in duration and scope.

“We are keen to extend the festival over a longer period and spread activities across other food and wine destinations to attract higher interstate and international visitation,” she said. 

Companies with a history of delivering culinary events will be invited to submit proposals to run an annual international food and wine festival across the South West and the Swan Valley for 2019 and beyond.

The successful proponent is expected to be announced in the first half of next year.

The news came on the heels of the sixth incarnation of the festival, which wound up on Sunday with international and Australian chefs singing the praises of the Gourmet Escape weekend.

The event exceeded the 19,000 visitors in 2016, breaking the record for attendance since the event’s inception. 

“I had an absolutely brilliant time in Margaret River. It’s a testament to the region that this truly outstanding event continues to attract the very best international culinary talent. It’s a world class event that needs to be on everyone’s bucket list,” said celebrity chef and headline guest Curtis Stone.

Brazilian chef Alex Atala returned to the region for his third Gourmet Escape and said the food and wine experience in the Margaret River region was “next level”. 

2017 Event director Katrina King said this year’s festival had seen an extra day added to the schedule of meals, tastings, demonstrations and Q&A sessions with more than 60 chefs and foodies.

“Combined with the 50th anniversary of the Margaret River Wine Region there’s been plenty to celebrate. Our visiting chefs have been singing the region’s praises, loving the quality of the produce, the fresh air and coastline and the friendly locals,” Ms King said. 

“We had an increase in ticket sales on last year and we’ve exceeded the 19,000 capacity we had in 2016, which was a record attendance for the festival.

“A massive thanks to all the local producers and their teams who have worked tirelessly across the week to make it so memorable, and to our event partners for making it possible. We can’t wait to do it again next year.”

This story Gourmet Escape festival future could include Swan Valley first appeared on Augusta-Margaret River Mail.