Locals bolster ticket sales at Wildfoods Festival

A bumper crowd of almost 9000 has been confirmed for the 29th Wildfoods Festival.

Official ticket sales for the big day and the after-party totalled 10,559.

The numbers are well up on previous years and a turnaround on the trend of falling numbers since 2012, when the crowd was 11,000.

Attendance peaked in 2003 with 22,500 and the crowd last year was a far cry from that, with the leanest at 5888, down from 6620 in 2016 and 7634 the year before that.

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said yesterday a number of factors had contributed to the big pull this year, which included many more locals than other years.

The Westland District Council set out this year to return the festival as a community-owned event after local attendance for the past three years fell to just 6%.

A $20 'Coasters' ticket and cheaper family passes for locals were introduced this year. While a breakdown in tickets sold is still being compiled, the mayor said it was obvious on the day there were more locals enjoying the day.

"The community have taken back the Wildfoods Festival and that was very noticeable," Mr Smith said.

The weather had also played a part in drawing a large crowd, as well as the change in layout that was more user-friendly.

A deliberate cap on stalls, down from 50 to 40, also ensured stallholders, including many community groups who relied on the festival for their annual income, actually made money for their effort.

"Last year a number of stallholders said they didn't make any money. By reducing the number of stalls I think you will find that they had a very good festival."

About 1200 tickets were also given away to different schools, groups and people who might not otherwise attend, including residents of the Hokitika rest home directly across the road from the Cass Square venue.

That number was separate to the 10,000 sold through ticketing agency, Eventfinder.

Mr Smith said it was great to see a number of elderly there on the day and next year they would look at including pensioners.

Planning is already under way for the 30th anniversary event on March 9, 2019.

The council is still waiting to see how the festival stacked up financially this time. Despite drawing a smallercrowd last year it still turned a $12,000 profit.

Since 2013, $130,000 has been shaved off running costs.

Five years ago the festival haemorrhaged $61,000 after expenses of $476,000. In 2014 a deficit of $81,000 was posted, leading to the budget being slashed for 2015, when the festival was run for a reduced $291,800, although that still returned a deficit of $33,000.

The 2016 event cost $341,000 to stage but returned $19,000.

- by Janna Sherman of the Hokitika Guardian

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