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Regional Flavours: Time For A Rethink?

Filed under Editorial, Tourism

The crowds that flock to Regional Flavours all have a strong interest in regional foods and wines … but as an exercise in growing regional tourism, it appears to have failed the South Burnett

August 2, 2018

by Dafyd Martindale

A South Burnett trade delegation recently returned from its annual, weekend-long marketing effort at the Regional Flavours food and wine expo at South Bank.

Regional Flavours claims to be Queensland’s premier food and wine festival, showcasing the State’s best producers and captivating crowds with market stalls, live entertainment, cooking demonstrations, and celebrity meet-and-greets.

As usual, we’ve heard this year’s show was a great success for the South Burnett with fabulous attendance numbers and lots of interest in our region’s food and wine stands.

And as usual, no one seems to know off the top of their heads how much this effort cost.

All the same, it’s the 10th year in a row the South Burnett has sent a team down to spruik the wonders of our foods and wines.

So it is probably timely to review what this has actually achieved.

When Regional Flavours began in 2009, it drew about 42,000 people to South Bank.

While final attendance numbers for this year’s outing are still being calculated, when completed they’re expected to show that about 84,000 came through the gates in 2018.

And that’s a big positive: as a free event, Regional Flavours has doubled in size over the past decade.

But where does it draw its audience?

Well, largely Brisbane and its estimated 2.3 million population.

So let’s get this right: in a city of 2.3 million, Regional Flavours was only able to draw 3.65 per cent to a FREE festival?

That’s not a very large slice of the food and wine tourism market, is it? Or perhaps it’s never been quite as big as tourism bodies have hyped it up to be.

Even if we presume two-thirds of Brisbane’s dedicated foodies couldn’t make it to South Bank this year for one reason nor another, this suggests the segment isn’t particularly large.

But it does back up the findings of a local online experiment at promoting the region’s food and wine that South Burnett Online ran between April 2003 and May 2005: South Burnett Cuisine.

We folded it after our two-year effort failed to promote any significant growth in that segment of our economy.

The picture gets even bleaker when we look at what results our region has achieved from its 10-year investment in promoting food and wine tourism at Regional Flavours.

In 2009, we had almost double the number of wineries in our region that we have today.

Names like Ziebarth Wines, Stuart Range, Shady Lane Vineyards, Arabesque Winery, Roderick’s Vineyard, Captain’s Paddock, the Booie Range Distillery and many more are now just distant memories of a boom that came … and went.

We also had roughly double the number of tourism operators we have today, including several who were regular exhibitors at Regional Flavours but no longer exist – Taste South Burnett, as one example.

In fairness, there were other factors that came into play during the last decade that contributed to this spectacular implosion in local tourism businesses.

The 2011 and 2013 floods were two disasters that immediately spring to mind. So was the GFC. And the great Australian ‘wine lake’ didn’t help either.

But whatever the cause, it seems clear Regional Flavours has not helped us reverse the situation

So if Council’s aim in sponsoring local producers and chefs to attend this event is to turn things around in this market segment, then Regional Flavours is clearly not delivering, and has never delivered.

Harvard historian George Santayana warned that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

After 10 years of investment – a fair try-out of the concept, in anybody’s language – we think the Council would be wise to heed him and start looking elsewhere to see if there might be more productive ways to spend our money.

There probably are.

But we’ll never find them if we keep focussing on things that don’t work.

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