Cornucopia attendance spikes

Annual food and drink festival breaks records, fills resort during shrinking shoulder season

Whistler is accustomed to weekend traffic jams during busy seasons, but a long line of cars creeping up Highway 99 on a Friday afternoon in mid-November? That’s a little more rare.

Those stuck in last weekend’s traffic can thank Cornucopia, Whistler’s annual food and drink festival.

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“I think it’s pretty safe to say Cornucopia has had a huge impact on November,” said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. “Before Cornucopia, you could shoot a cannon off in the Village and nobody would notice.”

And, according to Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark Communications, the company behind Cornucopia, this impact is only continuing to grow.

“Every year we set records as we go forward, and this year is no exception,” she said.

Having just celebrated its 20th anniversary as well as its fourth year running in an expanded two-weekend format, this year’s event grew by an estimated 15 per cent from last year’s, which was already up 20 per cent from 2014’s, Eckersley added.

Cornucopia had already sold 9,000 tickets and was on track to hit the 10,0000 ticket mark, she said in an interview last Thursday (Nov. 17). Moreover, she estimates about 80 per cent of Cornucopia attendees are coming from beyond the Sea to Sky corridor — a statistic that benefits the resort’s entire economy.

“It’s definitely meeting its mandate to drive traffic in what is usually a slower period of time,” said Eckersley.

Wilhelm-Morden agreed. “The whole point is to ensure that occupancy levels are maintained so that we don’t have shoulder seasons, so that businesses can remain viable and people can keep their jobs,” she said.  

The hotel industry in particular has benefitted from Cornucopia, according to Whistler Hotel Association president, Saad Hasan.

“It was busier than usual this November with transient guests, which is at least partially due to the (Cornucopia) events,” he wrote in an email.

The first weekend of Cornucopia, he added, saw many hotels sell out despite the fact that the resort typically runs at 70 per cent occupancy during the first weekend of the festival.

“We’ve gone to a few (hotels) to ask them for preferred rates and they just don’t have enough rooms to give us anymore,” added Eckersley. “One hundred per cent, the hotels are reaping benefits from this… I think that Cornucopia is multi-fold in terms of helping boost the Whistler economy.”

But more than filling up the resort during an otherwise quiet period, Cornucopia plays an important role in promoting Whistler’s increasingly renowned culinary scene for the season ahead.

“I think we take it for granted, when we live in Whistler, what type of options we have in the restaurant world and the plethora of world-class chefs that exist here, and this is an opportunity where we sort of get to shout it to the world,” said Eckersley. “We’re making a mark right now; visitor numbers and the hotel numbers and the number of tickets sold to people outside of Whistler are clear indicators of that. But what people sometimes forget about is simply all the good news stories around culinary tourism that come out of Cornucopia and remind people that Whistler is not just here to ski, but that it’s perfectly reasonable to come up here and enjoy some other activities and enjoy the culinary scene that exists.”

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