Fritter 2016 bigger and better

By Alexandra Newlove

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About 5300 people fuelled by fritters and fine wine danced the day away on March 19, contributing $1.16 million to Whangarei's economy. Photo / John Stone
About 5300 people fuelled by fritters and fine wine danced the day away on March 19, contributing $1.16 million to Whangarei's economy. Photo / John Stone

Attendance grew 6 per cent, but the time it took to get a glass of wine was cut in half at this year's Whangarei Fritter Festival, thanks to a cashless payment system used by the 5300 revellers.

Wins at the district's flagship music, food and wine event, held on March 19, included the newly-introduced AWOP payment system; a 14 per cent increase on last year's economic return; and visitors who stayed longer in town, said the "Post Fritter Report" to be presented to Whangarei District Council today.

Attendance continued to grow, with 5300 heading along compared with 5000 in 2015 - a 6 per cent increase - and well up on the 3500 who went to the first Fritter Fest in 2013.

WDC venues and events manager Rachel O'Gorman said the prepaid AWOP card system, which forced festival goers to pre-load money onto tap and go cards, resulted in "hardly any queues at all" at the festival stalls, hosted by 33 Northland wineries and eateries.

"AWOP turned out to be way more positive than we were thinking, so that was probably our main enhancement," she said.

On average, each festivalgoer contributed $198 to the local economy. WDC spent $115,000 at local businesses in creating the event, putting the total economic benefit to Whangarei at $1,162,810, compared with $1,047,810 in 2015.

People visiting from outside Whangarei - about 1060 attendees - stayed in the district longer, with 25.2 per cent of them staying two or more nights, compared with 13.2 per cent of last year's out-of-towners.

Ms O'Gorman said this was due to promotion through the NZ Motor Caravan Association which was provided with designated sites near the stadium, more advertising in Auckland and the encouragement of complementary events on days surrounding Fritter.

With 3,131,927 overseas visitors arriving in New Zealand in 2015, an increase of 32 per cent over the last decade, just 0.8 per cent of Fritter-goers were from overseas.

Ms O'Gorman said tourists were not currently a target demographic, though she estimated Toll could hold a maximum of 6000 people for the festival.

"The main groups we try to target are Auckland, Hamilton and the rest of the [Northland] region, though we do encourage people to bring visiting friends and family.

"It is supposed to be a boutique festival," she said.

The Jordan Luck Band helped attract a record crowd to this year's Fritter Festival. Photo / John Stone
The Jordan Luck Band helped attract a record crowd to this year's Fritter Festival. Photo / John Stone

Performers included headliners Katchafire, the Jordan Luck Band, Tiki Taane and Auckland's Hipstamatics, interspersed with sets from local acts Otium, 5K, The Gold Cloaks and The Avenues, and Ms O'Gorman said people were up and dancing earlier than in previous years.

Shorter queues meant people were able to get their drinks faster, and Ms O'Gorman said alcohol management entailed 12 months of planning, hourly meetings on the day, security guards who kept an eye out for drunken behaviour and an observation area for those who overindulged.

"We put in a whole lot of things to ensure it went smoothly ... there were no major issues and the police were really happy with how it went."

Fritter will celebrate its fifth anniversary next year.

"People want to see what else we can do," Ms O'Gorman said. "Soon, we'll put it out to the public to put their ideas in, whether it's an activity, art or performance."

- Northern Advocate

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