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Cornucopia sees modest growth in 2018

Ticket sales for food and wine fest rose between three and five per cent

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Cornucopia, Whistler's 11-day celebration of all things food and drink, continued to grow in its 22nd year, with a smattering of new events and a modest rise in ticket sales.

Sue Eckersley, executive director of event producer Watermark, said that the annual festival, which ran from Nov. 8 to 18, saw between a three- to five-per-cent increase in ticket sales this year,

"We're really happy with the results," she said. "We continue to grow, we continue to learn what works and we continue to have a loyal following."

Eckersley said the festival has built on its reputation in the Lower Mainland, which made up an estimated 75 to 80 per cent of the roughly 6,500 in attendance.

The increasing popularity of Whistler's so-called slow season no doubt played a role, with Eckersley noting hotel room nights were hard to come by over the course of the event.

"Average room nights have gone up and that's part of what makes me feel like it was a successful year, when the hoteliers are happy and the restaurateurs are happy," she added.

New to the schedule this year was Cornucopia's latest signature event, Abstract Future. Held at the Audain Art Museum, the sold-out inaugural edition on Nov. 17 intertwined art and entertainment with food and drink catered by the Westin Resort. Eckersley credited DJ and designer Ace Mackay-Smith for transforming the space into a futuristic haven.

"I've worked with her for decades now but I think she really outdid herself on this one," Eckersley said. "We're really pleased with everything at that event. Audain was a great partner and we look forward to continuing doing that event with them and then maybe at some point we can pass the mantle off to them, and that can be a nice fundraiser for them."

One event that didn't see strong ticket sales this year was Picnic on Nov. 15, a signature tasting that has moved around the Cornucopia schedule over the years. Eckersley said the event's poor attendance was "a head-scratcher," before adding that it will likely not return in future years.

"It's unfortunate. It's a great event and it has a similar format—it's kind of a cross between House Party and Night Market, which are two highly successful, sold-out events," she said. "We've got some ideas for that Thursday. We're already in discussion with a group and I'm fairly excited about that potential."

On the sponsorship side, funding grew by 10 per cent in 2018, according to Eckersley, who added that a new Watermark employee has been hired to focus on acquiring sponsorship year-round.

"We're not looking to overly commercialize (the event); we want to keep the character of what it is," she said.

Cornucopia's popularity has also paid dividends to the charities the festival supports. Volunteers from the Whistler Public Library helped raise more than $35,000 manning the coat-check throughout the festival. Bearfoot Bistro's third-party event, the World Oyster Invitational & Bloody Caesar Battle, raised another $35,000 for the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, while Ecole La Passerelle's French Rendezvous fundraiser brought in more than $20,000 for Whistler's only francophone school.

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