Need for new Escape plan
Tourism Council of WA boss Evan Hall says the redesign of the Gourmet Escape is needed because it has never come through with the visitor numbers WA’s tourism sector requires to stay competitive with other markets.
Despite annual subsidies of about $3 million a year in the past six years, last year’s Escape brought in only an estimated extra 1500 people.
“It wasn’t bringing in large numbers of visitors,” Mr Hall told the Times. “It seemed to have a pretty good brand awareness but whether that was contributing additional visitors to WA, it was pretty small. It was a sizeable investment.”
There were flaws in the initial design of the festival, commissioned by the then-Liberal-Nationals-led WA government, and the big focus on international media awareness hadn’t translated into a financial boost for the South West tourism sector.
Mr Hall’s words echo what many small operators were too shy to say, despite a backlash against the November festival two years ago for failing to benefit local companies.
In announcing the request for new proposals at the weekend, Tourism Minister Paul Papalia confirmed Labor did not believe the festival had delivered sufficient value.
The minister said the original Gourmet Escape concept would still be “very much at the centre of the new culinary event” but he believed it hadn’t delivered in key areas. “What it didn’t do was draw significant international visitors,” he said.
“I’m not convinced that it helped small tourism operators and highquality food and premium liquor producers.”
Mr Hall said limits on WA’s tourism budget meant events had to achieve clear outcomes and the redesigned festival, which might not carry the Gourmet Escape name, must include a strong focus on package holidays and getting to WA.
Mr Papalia said the mining boom had ended since the Escape was conceived and now Perth had a glut of high-end hotel rooms worthy of international and interstate visitors.
“Our priority is tourism,” he told the Times.
“Does it bring people from interstate and overseas as a priority?”
Vasse MLA Libby Mettam acknowledged the Escape “matured” during its six years.
“There is scope for improvement,” Ms Mettam said, “and to see the promotion transform into greater visitation but the value of promotion (this) region . . . to unique audiences across the world can’t be underestimated either.”
She said the refocus needed to guarantee Margaret River’s food and wine was at the forefront of any offering.
Tourism Minister Paul Papalia, centre, with Funk Cider's Martin Michael and Dustin Michael in the Swan Valley. The State Government is launching a Request for Tender document for a new-look Gourmet Escape in 2019. The new-look event will include the Swan Valley.