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Restaurateurs concerned with Cornucopia despite strong attendance

Improvement needed in organization, programming and marketing of festival, says restaurant association



Cornucopia's expanded 2013 festival saw strong ticket sales and positive feedback from attendees, according to organizers, although local restaurateurs still see room for improvement at Whistler's premier food and wine event.

This year Cornucopia was extended from five to 11 days, ending Sunday, Nov. 17, and overall, organizers were happy with ticket sales during Year 1 of the expanded festival, which saw more than 100 events added to the program.

"We are really excited about it. It actually exceeded expectations and we think it's got a great foundation to be built in future years," said Sue Eckersley from Watermark Communications, a key organizer of the festival. "My expectation is that we doubled the number of tickets sold over last year, which is pretty exciting."

While attendance figures are not yet available for the second weekend of the festival, Eckersley said 20 out of 24 food and wine seminars sold out during the first weekend, the highest number of sell-outs she can remember. Tourism Whistler (TW) indicated there was a 69 per cent increase in ticket sales through compared to last year. Signature events like the Crush Gala, House Party BC, House Party Argentina and Poured also saw strong ticket sales, meeting TW's targets.

"We saw events with good attendance, we had good feedback from vendors at different events, and there were no immediate concerns," said TW's vice president of marketing, Louise Walker. "I'd say overall the vast majority of feedback has been positive about the extension."

Even with the promising attendance figures in 2013, local restaurateurs have some concerns surrounding the organization, marketing and programming of Cornucopia as it moves into its 18th year.

"There's been some feedback that people weren't happy with the level of organization and direction (of the festival)," said Edward Dangerfield, co-owner of modern French eatery Alta Bistro.

While he supports the big-ticket events held at Cornucopia, Dangerfield said organizers need to determine the future direction of the festival and what role resort restaurants will play in it.

"Events like Crush are fantastic, but in terms of what we're trying to achieve with this festival, it doesn't promote awesome food and wine experiences in a restaurant setting. Don't get me wrong, (those events) are important but from my standpoint, I think there needs to be more engagement with what Whistler actually is and the local community," he said.

The entrepreneur and president of the Restaurant Association of Whistler met with local restaurateurs this week and plans to meet with TW president Barrett Fisher to voice some of their concerns.

"The reason some people stopped working at Cornucopia, some restaurants aren't even open and other restaurants aren't engaged, is because there really isn't a good backbone of organization, a clear direction or the marketing that goes with it," he added.

Alta Bistro hosted 10 events throughout the festival, and ticket sales were strong for the first weekend, slowed down during mid-week and were much lower than expected during the event's second weekend, Dangerfield said.