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Seven years growing a lasting appetite for Wellington

31 Aug 2015

Over the last seven years, the annual Visa Wellington On a Plate culinary festival has helped lead a transformation of one of Wellington’s quietest months, and been an invaluable enabler for the local food and beverage sector.

Diners celebrate Visa Wellington On a Plate at The Four Amigos special event
Diners celebrate Visa Wellington On a Plate

Now delivering approximately $4m in GDP value to the region annually (BERL 2013), the inaugural 2009 Visa Wellington On a Plate was created and incubated by two of the organisations involved in the newly formed Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency, (Positively Wellington Tourism and Grow Wellington).

Since 2009, August has been the fastest-growing month in the year for commercial guest nights in Wellington. August 2014 saw 15.9% more guest nights than August 2009 - well over double the growth between the two years as a whole. (Source: Commercial Accommodation Monitor)

In fact, Positively Wellington Tourism (PWT) Chief Executive David Perks says the festival has become a year-round tourism driver.

“Visa Wellington On a Plate is not just a fantastic event, it’s a brilliant vehicle for showcasing Wellington’s culinary credentials and paving the way for us being recognised as one of the world's great food cities."

Wellington City Councillor for Economic Development Jo Coughlan says the festival has achieved the ultimate economic hat-trick - empowered local industry, enhanced the city's reputation and delivered a transformational result.

"Last year Visa Wellington On a Plate generated more than $1.5 million in earned media coverage across Australia and New Zealand. That equates to millions of potential visitors who received the message that Wellington is New Zealand’s culinary capital.”

Adjusted for inflation, Domestic visitor spending on food and beverage services in Wellington was up 22% last August, compared with pre-festival levels, with International visitor spending up 36%. (Source: MBIE Regional Tourism Indicators)

Restaurant Association NZ President Mike Egan said the festival was a powerful tool for connecting establishments with new customers, growing their business and in turn the economy.

“The festival gives a whole lot of people the confidence to go out and try some new restaurants for the first time. That’s a huge opportunity for restaurateurs to showcase the cuisine and experience they provide, and win new loyal customers. To those who are able make the most of it, the benefits of the surge in interest can be long-lasting.“

As a restaurant owner, Mr Egan has first-hand experience of Visa Wellington On a Plate stimulating the development of an establishment’s offering;

“The festival also ignites our creativity and gives us confidence to push the envelope and try new things. At Osteria del Toro we tried an Italian Sunday lunch event for the festival in 2010. It was so popular, it’s become a permanent fixture ever since. Prior to that we’d never opened for Sunday lunch, and now it’s something the restaurant is known for.”

The festival's supplier showcase, held in February each year, is attended by national and international retailers along with Wellington-based chefs planning their menus. The mix of big food companies and boutique suppliers demonstrates the diversity and strength of Wellington’s industry.

Jo Donnelly, co-owner of inaugural MiNDFOOD Producer of the Year Award winners Bees Blessing, says Visa Wellington On a Plate has been key in the progression of her business.

“Winning the Mindfood Producer of the Year award in 2013, along with running festival events in collaboration with other producers like Kereru Brewery, has brought us numerous contacts and opportunities for distributing our product and growing our business.

"We now sell nationwide and have launched our products into Ballantynes in Christchurch and Smith & Caugheys in Auckland. Since winning the award our turnover has increased steadily.”

With Beervana formally coming into the fold, the Wellington Culinary Events Trust is now responsible for championing Wellington’s fast-growing beverage sector as well as the hospitality industry.

In 2014 Wellington’s craft beer output leaped by 80% to $22.3M, and accounted for 40% of total growth in Wellington’s food & beverage sector over the last four years. (Source: Grow Wellington)

Festival Director Sarah Meikle says supporting the long-term growth of the industry was always part of the vision for Visa Wellington On a Plate.

“Wellington's power is in its people and the way our industries collaborate to achieve our collective aims. Visa Wellington On a Plate was created and incubated by the region's agencies, with tremendous support and guidance from the industry. We’re now an independent entity with a full-time team and a year-round strategy."

A full report on the direct economic impact of Visa Wellington On a Plate 2015 will be released before the end of the year.

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