A few weeks ago, Sue Eckersley admits she was in a bit of a panic. Sales for the first weekend of Cornucopia were going strong and events were close to selling out, but almost nobody seemed to have clued into the fact that the festival had been extended to 11 days, Nov. 7 to 17, with another whole weekend of events and attractions added to the list.
“We were concerned with our sales for the second weekend, but we didn’t have enough communication out there that it’s 11 days this year,” said Eckersley.
Thanks to an advertising push — made with some financial assistance from the municipal Festival, Events and Animation (FE&A) department — and an unprecedented amount of mainstream media attention in the Lower Mainland, ticket sales have been accelerating.
“One of the biggest things we’ve done with FE&A investment is put more dollars into marketing, which has never been bigger in Cornucopia’s entire existence,” said Eckersley. “There are electric boards on the highway, there’s a radio campaign, there’s a TV campaign, so we’re pretty excited about this year’s event — and the opportunities for learning because we’re doing so many new things this year.”
The media attention is only ramping up, with two spots on Breakfast Television in Vancouver this week, a segment on Global, pieces on Seattle television stations and more. The word is definitely out there.
Events on the second weekend of Cornucopia are now starting to sell out, and the new Nourish series that focuses on health and wellness has been extremely popular so far, said Eckersley, with a few events like the Farmers Table Lunch Workshop selling out last week.
Eckersley estimated that between 90 and 95 per cent of ticket sales have been to the Lower Mainland and Washington State, but she expects local ticket sales to increase closer to the event. Locals are famous for being last minute, she said, but always turn out in big numbers.
For this year she said they’ve tried to fill the middle of the week with interesting events, but the extended festival — 11 days this year versus six last year — is still a regional attraction that for the most part gears its biggest attractions for the weekends. The goal is to continue to grow, however, and build the mid-week component.
“Right now we’re a regional festival and we’re looking at rubber tire traffic for the most part, but when we get to be a true 11-day festival and the word gets out it will be worthwhile for people to fly in from Europe, Australia, New York, that kind of thing,” said Eckersley. “Those people are not likely to fly all that way for three or four days, but if we can create value and attractions for all 11 days then we’ll be an option for that fly-in demographic as well.
“That’s the goal in a few years. Right now we’re moving slowly and trying to make sure that everything we’re doing is working the way it needs to before ramping up to that next level.”
Cornucopia’s schedule lists 192 separate events, ranging from workshops and seminars on food and wine, to winemaker’s dinners that pair food and wine at local restaurants, to major tasting and sampling events, to Nourish — and a wide variety of events ranging from Yoga to seminars on First Nations medicines to Feng Shui design.
It’s not all about wine, either. There are sessions on beer, cider, gin, rum, port, tea and other drinks.
According to Tourism Whistler, occupancy is reaching 60 per cent on the first Saturday of the festival, and interest is picking up on the second weekend as well. As a result, room nights overall for November are pacing ahead of last year.
“Our marketing is now rolled out, and we are starting to see sales for events on the second weekend pick up,” said TW spokesperson Patricia Westerholm. “We always expected a slower start to the second weekend sales and more last minute bookings as people become aware of the events. But the expanded programming is drawing a significant amount of consumer and media interest, with great coverage locally, regionally and nationally.”
Some of the main events include the Best of BC House Party (Nov. 7), the CRUSH Gala Grand Tasting (Nov. 8 and 9), Nourish: Scandinave (Nov. 14), the Celebrate Argentina House Party (Nov. 15), Furry Fridays (Nov. 15), Indulge (Nov. 16) and Monster Energy Presents: Revolutions (Nov. 16).
A complete list of events, and ticket sales, are available at www.whistlercornucopia.com.