Gourmet Escape changes causes uncertainty

WA government's changes to the future of Gourmet Escape events causes uncertainty in region. Image supplied.
WA government's changes to the future of Gourmet Escape events causes uncertainty in region. Image supplied.

The future of Gourmet Escape in the region has fuelled uncertainty following the state government’s announcement that from 2019 the event would be split across the Swan Valley and Margaret River.

As part of the announcement, the state government said Margaret River Gourmet Escape would be funded as normal for 2018.

However, 2019 will be different with certain event companies invited to put a bid in to run a food and wine festival across the two locations. 

This could result in IMG Culinary - the group responsible for Gourmet Escape, not running the international event.

The preferred proponent will be announced in the first half of next year.

IMG Culinary hold food events in 20 countries around the world, which its senior vice president Justin Clarke said enabled them to constantly work with global talent and gave them direct access to invite world renowned chefs to Margaret River.

IMG also employ more than 5,000 people around the world, with 140 employees based in Australia and a further 150 people employed during Gourmet Escape.

Mr Clarke said it was a huge amount of work to bring more than 50 visiting chefs, organise 30 plus venues, more than 50 individual events plus 100 exhibitors and producers.

“We are confident in saying no other organisation could deliver this lineup of culinary royalty to the same scale,” he said.

Over the last six years, Mr Clarke said the event had brought 95,000 visitors to the Margaret River region and received global media attention seen by millions of people around the world.

He said during 2016’s event, international and interstate visitor numbers grew by 30 per cent, with an average stay of five nights and a total of 24,500 nights booked across the region.

Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said a bigger and broader event run over nine days in Margaret River and the Swan Valley would attract more interstate and overseas visitors to WA.

Mr Papalia said changing the event built on the “good work” already done to build the Margaret River brand would grow a new tourism opportunity.

“We are going to bring together all the stakeholders who are currently involved in the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, include some other people with expertise in events and go for a request for proposal for a new event.”

Mr Papalia said at the moment the festival was about brand and raising awareness to consumers through “celebrity bloggers” and the new festival would grow opportunities for producers.

“What we want to do now is focus on a bigger and broader food and wine festival, but also have a newer component which would be very targetted on assisting primary producers grow their market particularly in the Asian regions.”

Vasse MP Libby Mettam said the state government’s changes were short sighted and would destroy the brand that had made the region an international food and wine destination.

“Victorian tourism operators have been eyeing the event for some time for the Mornington Peninsula and we have just handed it to them on a platter,” she said.

“This is an event our state can not afford to lose to our Eastern states competitors.”

Warren-Blackwood MP Terry Redman said the move was a step in the wrong direction and risked millions of dollars in the South West.

Mr Redman said the government had diluted the value of the event by taking away security of investment by throwing the Swan Valley in the mix.

He said the government’s lack of commitment to Gourmet Escape was crushing for thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on tourism.

“In what appears to be nothing more than a cost saving measure, Labor’s splitting of Gourmet Escape into two destinations 300 kilometres apart, and not giving any security of funding past a year, beggars belief,” he said.

Have your say: Will the changes to Gourmet Escape impact tourism in the South West? Why or why not? Email editorial.bdmail@fairfaxmedia.com.au.