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Cornucopia ends 10 per cent up in ticket sales

Room night bookings for food and wine fest pace 20 per cent ahead of 2013
A chef prepares an appetizer for a Cornucopia event. Photo by Mike Crane/Tourism Whistler

The organizers of Cornucopia envision the food and wine festival eventually becoming B.C.'s premier culinary event. If the 18th edition of the festival is any indication, event producers Watermark Communications are already well on their way.

Running from Nov. 6 to 16, Cornucopia enjoyed a 10-per-cent boost in ticket sales in 2014, the second year the event was extended to 11 days from five. One of the long-term goals for the event is to build the profile of the final weekend with a handful of signature events, and, with room-night bookings pacing 33-per-cent ahead on the second Friday, and 54-per-cent ahead on the second Saturday, event producer Sue Eckersley is more than happy with how things are going.

"It was the Cornucopia I was most proud of producing," she said of the nine years Watermark has been involved.

"I'm so excited about where this event is going, with its stability, economic viability, and just some really great events that are starting to come into their own."

A strategic decision was made by Tourism Whistler this year to focus on the event's two weekends, said VP of strategic planning Louise Walker, with more emphasis on midweek events in future years.

"What I would love to see is Cornucopia be recognized as B.C.'s premier food and drink festival, and one that attracts visitors, but also the trades, which is where you see a lot of midweek growth," Walker said.

The festival added several new signature events this year, like Cellar Door, a wine tasting gala designed as the high-end answer to the popular Crush Grand Gala. Wine seminars were also introduced for the first time this year to great response.

Bearfoot Bistro hosted an event every night of the festival, including the Belvedere Black Box Cocktail Party. Marketing director Marc Des Rosiers said it's evident Cornucopia has evolved by leaps and bounds from earlier renditions.

"What's interesting with the event is that it's no longer strictly a wine festival, and I think the spirit component is becoming more and more important," he said, adding that extending the festival to 11 days was "definitely the right decision."

While the resort's top restaurants like Bearfoot and Araxi are heavily involved every year and typically host some of the most well-attended events, it's the smaller venues that stand to benefit the most from the added profile Cornucopia can bring — just ask Red Door Bistro executive chef R.D. Stewart, who hosted two sold-out winemaker dinners with Tightrope Winery.

"(The organizers) are doing a better job of bringing out the smaller places," he said. "It's just nice to show the diversity (of Whistler's dining scene). You don't always have to go to the top guys, you can spend a reasonable amount for a really good product showcasing one of the smaller venues in town."

Still, Cornucopia has room to grow before it becomes a must-attend event on the culinary calendar for long-haul visitors, said Alta Bistro's Eric Griffith, who cancelled both of the restaurant's planned events prior to the festival partly due to staffing shortages and lower-than-expected advance ticket sales.

"Does (Cornucopia) want to be a top, world-class food festival? I think it does but there's still a lot of work to be done," said Griffith, who noted that the restaurant was full during the weekends, but slow mid-week.

"I'd love to see chefs from around the world coming, better keynote speakers and the bigger names that would draw crowds from New York, L.A. and San Francisco."

It's a vision that Eckersley shares for the festival.

"Overall, it'll end up that there's a signature event every night of the week that gives reason for people to come from further afield for a week worth of events," she said. "We're headed in the right direction."

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