Whitebait festival may be cancelled

Westland District Council chief executive Tanya Winter has recommended cancelling the 'Great Whitebait Festival' next year after discovering that losses from the inaugural event in Christchurch at Labour Weekend were far greater than originally thought.

New figures released by the council on Friday show the festival will have cost almost $200,000; double the losses reported to the council in October.

Ms Winter said if it was held again next year the potential profits would partially offset the losses from this year, making the loss from the festival just over $150,000, but that was still higher than the figure given in October.

The council meeting tomorrow will discuss whether or not to dump the festival.

Ms Winter said she was pushing for council to "cut its losses" and cancel the event after investigating the possibilities to hold it next year.

"In considering all of the information, I have recommended to council that we exit the festival and concentrate our resources on other core and strategic activities."

The losses would be covered by the council events department budget, as it was not directly financed by the council.

Ms Winter blamed the loss on poor ticket sales.

"Ticket sales fell well short of the 5000 tickets required to break even, and efforts to secure sponsorships to support the financial proposition were not successful," she said.

The council's Westland Business Unit, which organised the festival, had aimed to sell 5000 tickets just to break even but had originally hoped to sell many more.

In the end, it managed to sell only 1900, eventually giving away a further 2100 complimentary tickets to stallholders, invited guests, advertisers and the media.

On the plus side, West Coast community groups benefited from the event by raising more than $25,000 in helping host the festival, while the region received substantial media coverage from the event, she said.

Councillors at the October meeting were fairly quiet when told about the fiasco, but are expected to be more animated tomorrow.

- By Julian Lee of the Hokitika Guardian

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