Need for new Es­cape plan

Augusta Margaret River Times - - Times News -

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.

Pic­ture: Danella Be­vis

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.

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