The Margaret River Gourmet Escape will take on a new look and a new identity next year thanks to a 3 year deal with international events management company, IMG.
The event will be rebranded as the Western Australia Gourmet Escape, and will include events and marketing across three locations – Perth, Swan Valley and Margaret River.
In Margaret River to announce the deal alongside Tourism WA chairman Nathan Harding, Mr Papalia said he did not believe the changes to the annual food and wine festival would dilute the promotion of the South West.
“IMG has been selected to deliver the new, bigger, boosted, expanded Gourmet event that will be happening from next year,” Mr Papalia said.
“This event will be longer in duration and have multiple components to it – it will give our little premium producers of food and wine the opportunity that they’ve never had before to sell their wares.
“We are very happy that IMG – the trusted operators of the Margaret River Gourmet Escape – have embraced the opportunity to run the Western Australia Gourmet Escape.”
The festival will also be extended to 10 days, starting with a weekend in the Swan Valley and events in Perth during the week before concluding in the Margaret River region the following weekend.
“Expanding the festival allows people from overseas and from the Eastern States to make the journey to WA for longer, and gives them more flexibility to experience a range of locations while they are here,” Mr Papalia said.
“Being a larger event, we now have the interest of a wider audience and we also have more people keen to sell the festival to that audience, with hotels, transport companies and others potentially coming on board.”
Mr Harding said the decision to expand the event sprang from a desire to leverage the growing food and wine tourism sector.
“One in ten visitors comes to WA for our premium food and wine,” Mr Harding said.
“We really believe WA has the potential to become a food and wine hotspot on a global level – so to help us do that, we think that if we can build an event that is the world’s best food and wine festival anywhere, that will really put us on the map as a food and wine hotspot.
“Expanding this event will mean we have much bigger scale, a much bigger marketing budget...and will really help drive the message home that WA is a premium food and wine tourism hotspot and we invite the world to come here and sample what we have.”
A trade-oriented event will also take place in Perth during the festival week. The World’s Gourmet Symposium will aim to attract industry leaders, chefs, restaurateurs and hospitality businesses to the State from Australia and overseas.
Despite a veil of secrecy over the announcement, which is believed to have been signed this week, the news soon spread around the state on Friday afternoon.
Shadow Tourism Minister Libby Mettam lashed the decision, saying the Margaret River Gourmet Escape brand had taken seven years to develop.
“The McGowan Government has wasted an opportunity to develop three separate tourism events spread over the year to highlight and capitalise on the three unique destinations,” Ms Mettam said.
“Instead, the Tourism Minister has trashed an internationally recognised brand, that underpins the region’s significant wine export industry, in favour of a cobbled together, watered-down metro-centric event that completely short sells the State’s tourism offering.
This isn’t creating additional spend, it’s just spreading existing spend thinly over three regions.Shadow Tourism Minister Libby Mettam
“This isn’t creating additional spend, it’s just spreading existing spend thinly over three regions.”
Ms Mettam said the installation of a dedicated chief executive at the Department of Tourism was clearly needed at the “rudderless” agency.
“Making this decision at a time when international visitor spend is down 8 per cent and interstate visitor spend is down $140 million, against growth in every other state, highlights this Minister’s incompetence,” she said.
“It’s well known that when you encourage international visitors to the regions, they stay longer and spend more.”
“[The announcement is] yet another blow to the Margaret River region which is still trying to deal with the impact of the cancellation of the Margaret River Pro and the uncertainty around that event’s future.
“I also believe tourism operators in the Swan Valley would also prefer the Government support a standalone event that celebrates the region’s reputation as one of the State’s oldest wine regions.”
The final Margaret River Gourmet Escape will be held in November this year, before the new festival is launched in 2019.