Es­cape event change ‘blow’

Augusta Margaret River Times - - News - War­ren Hately Mar­garet River wine­maker Brad Wehr, WA Tourism Min­is­ter Paul Pa­palia and Tourism WA chair­man Nathan Hard­ing dis­cuss the Western Aus­tralia Gourmet Es­cape ex­panded 10-day event.

The Mar­garet River Gourmet Es­cape will con­tinue un­der name own­ers IMG Culi­nary, but will be “the grand fi­nale” of an ex­panded 10-day event tak­ing in Perth and start­ing in the Swan Val­ley.

Closely held de­tails about the event were unveiled un­der em­bargo at the week­end af­ter months of back-room ne­go­ti­a­tions fol­low­ing the WA La­bor Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to re­tool the event be­cause it was not bring­ing in enough ex­tra vis­i­tors.

Tourism Min­is­ter Paul Pa­palia and Tourism WA chair­man Nathan Hard­ing made the trek south last Fri­day to break the news to a closed mem­ber group of Mar­garet River tourism op­er­a­tors, in­clud­ing the Mar­garet River-Bus­sel­ton Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion.

The new event will run un­der the name Western Aus­tralia Gourmet Es­cape, but Mr Pa­palia de­fended crit­i­cism the new event would di­lute its Mar­garet River fo­cus, say­ing the Swan Val­ley and the South West would have their own Gourmet Es­cape iden­ti­ties.

In­ter­na­tional events com­pany IMG won the three-year con­tract for an undis­closed sum, with few op­er­a­tors able to match its global reach.

Mr Pa­palia told the Times the new deal was worth “sig­nif­i­cantly more” than the three-year, $2.58 mil­lion pack­age ac­ci­den­tally dis­closed in 2014.

The min­is­ter said a 10-day fo­cus was the only way to en­sure in­ter- state and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors would come to WA, with those mar­kets un­likely to travel to Mar­garet River for a sin­gle week­end event.

The re­tool­ing was part of the Gov­ern­ment’s crit­i­cised “gate­ways” plan to draw tourists from out­side WA to Perth and then dis­perse to the re­gions.

Shadow tourism spokes­woman and Vasse MLA Libby Met­tam cried foul at the changes and said La­bor’s an­tic­i­pated di­lu­tion of the Es­cape had come true.

It was “a blow for an in­dus­try strug­gling with a down­ward spi­ral in vis­i­tor spend”.

“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.

The rejig was “a cob­bled­to­gether, wa­tered-down, metro­cen­tric event that com­pletely short sells the State’s tourism of­fer­ing”.

Mr Hard­ing said food and wine was one of the fastest-grow­ing tourism mar­kets and the aim was to make the Gourmet Es­cape — and Mar­garet River — syn­ony­mous with high-value pro­duce on the world stage.

“Ev­ery­thing leads into Mar­garet River and I think Mar­garet River will be bet­ter off for the event,” he said.

The ex­panded fes­ti­val would also in­clude a trade com­po­nent — the World’s Gourmet Sym­po­sium — aimed at boost­ing the pro­file of re­gional and WA pro­duc­ers.

Mr Pa­palia said WA had to fol­low the lead of ev­ery other State har­ness­ing growth in in­ter­na­tional tourism so it was no longer lag­ging be­hind, and he had am­bi­tions — that did not in­clude Bus­sel­ton Air­port — of in­creas­ing di­rect flights from China, Ja­pan and In­dia.

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