Restaurateurs concerned with Cornucopia despite strong attendance 

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

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE/TOURISM WHISTLER - Fantastic Food Attendees loved the events at Cornucopia this year, but there have been concerns from some restaurateurs.
  • Photo By Mike Crane/Tourism Whistler
  • Fantastic Food Attendees loved the events at Cornucopia this year, but there have been concerns from some restaurateurs.

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Increasing awareness of the expanded schedule will take time, said Eckersley, who noted that Watermark doubled its marketing budget this year, with TW ramping up marketing efforts in 2013 as well, with advertising reaching into Washington State.

"The reality is, and anybody in business knows that Year 1 isn't going to be an insane, instantaneous success," said Eckersley, whose long-term goal is to transform Cornucopia into a popular attraction for destination visitors. "I think we can start having the legs to start marketing a little further afield. The typical Cornucopia stay is three or maybe four days; if we can get the average stay up to five or six days like it is for the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, then we can make a big dent in terms of driving business for the resort."

Another major concern for participating restaurants was the complicated reservation booking system on the Cornucopia website, an issue that organizers said they will work on for next year.

"The website needs to be totally overhauled," said Dangerfield. "It's a very complicated booking engine that no one really understands and the booking process for restaurants isn't streamlined. Tourism Whistler was taking reservations and then it filters through the restaurants, but not accurately."

Pepe Barajas, general manager of The Mexican Corner, agreed that the website was hard to navigate and said some events were listed as sold out when there were still tickets available. He recommended giving restaurants the ability to log in to the booking engine in order to track ticket sales more regularly and plan accordingly.

Barajas, who also serves as a director of the restaurant association, said the festival was "probably too long" and would like to see more attention paid to mid-week programming with appearances by high-profile chefs to attract out-of-town visitors if the event is to continue in its current 11-day format.

"We have a lot of good chefs (in Whistler), but I'll be honest with you, why would I pay $135 to see a chef that I can see anytime during the year for $40?" asked Barajas, who also said the busy programming slate created too much competition between events. "We need some other people that we don't normally have so they add value to the festival."

Eckersley said she'd love to host a top-level chef for the fest, but admitted budgetary limits are a constraint. Cornucopia received $75,000 in augmentation funding through the municipality's Festival, Events and Animation program for the 2013 schedule.

"I think there's the misimpression out there that there's bucket loads of money sitting there to execute these types of programs," she said. "If we're looking at bringing in a top chef, you're looking at tens of thousands of dollars. Well, how do you make that make sense in terms of throwing an event that can help you recoup some of those dollars? It's all things that have to make sense in terms of a business plan."

The 17th-annual Cornucopia festival ran from Nov. 7 to 17. Next year's event will continue in its current expanded format, said Eckersley.

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