Wildfoods Festival bigger, better, wilder and $20k in the black

By Janna Sherman

Huhu grubs are just one of the delicacies on offer at Hokitika's annual Wildfoods Festival. Photo/File
Huhu grubs are just one of the delicacies on offer at Hokitika's annual Wildfoods Festival. Photo/File

The Wildfoods Festival finished with a $20,000 surplus this year.

It is the first surplus for at least three years, after a $33,500 deficit last year, $81,000 in 2014 and $61,000 the year before that.

In a report to be tabled at the Westland District Council meeting tomorrow in Hari Hari, festival co-ordinator Ashley Cassin said the financial result was off the back of the first year of ticket growth in at least four years.

Ticket sales spiked 6 per cent and the number of stallholders spiked 15 per cent. This year's festival also saw the return of the festival after-party.

Mr Cassin said a "number of challenging years" had spurred the philosophy of "bigger, better, wilder" for this and future events and that had proved successful.

However, the festival was ultimately judged on its financial result.

"The burning question out there is how did the festival stack up financially and I am happy to be able to say that this year the festival returned a $19,305 surplus. This is on the back of ticketing growth, a diversified event portfolio and is further supported by cutting well over $120,000 out of the operating budget over the last two years."

Changes under the "bigger, better, wilder" concept included a community pre-party at the Hokitika beach a month out from the festival, returning the festival markets to the main street of town, and the return of the festival after-party after a two-year absence.

Ticket numbers for both events were 6620 and 1270. The last post-festival concert in 2013 drew less than half that number, 621. Numbers through the gates on the day were up by about 400 from last year. Mr Cassin said it was the first time since 2012 that growth instead of decline had been experienced in sales.

A report from the ticketing agency showed that visitors came from 18 countries. New Zealand visitors were drawn from Auckland (4.2 per cent), Wellington (2.45 per cent), Nelson-Marlborough (6.4 per cent) and 3.7 per cent from Otago-Southland.

Mr Cassin said that highlighted the strength Wildfoods had to pull visitors domestically and internationally.

"Like Coasters themselves, this unique festival has been resilient to numerous external factors over the years; the Christchurch and Canterbury earthquakes, the ongoing development of significant competition in the events space every weekend between October and April annually and staying fresh at the forefront of culinary events."

However, the event continued to be an "economic stimulus for the Coast".

Feedback, including surveys, debriefs and a public meeting had found the latest festival had been a great success, Mr Cassin said.

"But there is still a lot more to work on."

The council reviewed the festival last year as ticket sales continued to decline, but kept it in-house in recognition of the economic benefits it brought to the West Coast.

Westland Mayor Mike Havill supported retaining the festival and initially brokered this year's sponsorship deal with Air New Zealand.

He said yesterday he was "rapt" with this year's result and pleased the council decided to give the festival another chance.

"Staff have worked hard to reduce operating expenses, attract new and diverse audiences, and secure new sponsors, and it has paid off," Mr Havill said.

- NZME.

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