Tourism industry urges roadmap for easing restrictions as food festival cancelled

Tourism industry urges roadmap for easing restrictions as food festival cancelled
The organisers of Western Australia Gourmet Escape international food festival have cancelled the November event, citing ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Key points:

  • The international Gourmet Escape food festival has run in Margaret River since 2012
  • The organisers say travel restrictions mean the event is not possible
  • The Tourism Council of WA says event organisers need more certainty about when state borders will open

The multi-million-dollar event has run since 2012 in Margaret River and featured celebrity foodies like Nigella Lawson, Rick Stein and Curtis Stone.

Event director Sarah Lovell said the event — which is marketed to international guests and backed by Tourism WA — just wasn’t possible.

She said the event had attracted about 150,000 visitors from Australia and around the world since it began, with events held in Margaret River and in Swan Valley, near Perth.

Tourism disappointment

Tourism Council of WA chief executive Evan Hall said the cancellation was indicative of the devastating impact of the restrictions around COVID 19 on the events industry.

Nigella Lawson, in pink floral dress, under umbrella, holding microphone

Celebrity cook and writer Nigella Lawson at the Gourmet Escape festival in Margaret River.(Supplied: Gourmet Escape)

Mr Hall said the industry needed some indication about when WA’s travel restrictions would ease.

“It’s all about having some certainty and road map on the way forward, events have a long planning and lead time,” he said.

“We want to get on with the planning of next year’s events.

“Almost all of these events will require some movement across the interstate border, be it for a guest speaker or talent or entertainer.

The Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association’s Sharna Kearney said the decision was disappointing, but not unexpected.

She said while they had strong support from domestic visitors, there had been a decline in people taking tours.

“We’re taking every month on a case by case basis,” Ms Kearney said.

Mixed views on event

Food writer and restaurant critic with The West Australian Rob Broadfield said the international event was a major boost for WA’s food scene and provided vital publicity.

“It is an international event, bringing international rock star chefs and barmen and so on to Western Australia as part of a broader tourism strategy, to get bums on seats out of China, Hong Kong, Singapore and even further afield, and that has worked emphatically well.”

A long dinner table filled with guests at night in a garden under fairy lights.

WA’s Gourmet Escape usually takes place each November, showcasing some of the best food and wine from around the state.(Supplied: Gourmet Escape)

But former host of ABC’s Consuming Passions — and Margaret River local — Ian Parmenter has long been an outspoken critic of the event, which he said benefited overseas companies rather than WA.

Event director Sarah Lovell said the event would be back next year, as part of recovery efforts.

“We look forward to returning in November 2021 to continue promoting Western Australia’s culinary offerings and boosting efforts to increase visitation,” she said.

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