Winter party chopped to four days

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Queenstown Winter Festival will be squeezed into four days from next year.

The annual start-of-winter celebration - currently running till Sunday - has spanned 10 days for most of its 42 years.

A review, commissioned by festival owner Destination Queenstown, has decided to “re-energise” it by turning it into a jam-packed four days.

It will still feature many event favourites, but DQ boss Graham Budd accepts some will fall off the current 60-event programme.

However, some could be picked by other organisers and run another time during winter.

He stresses the festival’s not being lopped because it’s failing - he believes it’s as strong as ever in its appeal to locals, visitors and sponsors.

“The reason for the reduced duration is to ensure its sustainability and its energy for the next 10 or 15 or 20 or actually 42 years.”

“It’s not broken, but I think today’s business environment is one where you can’t be complacent about things when they’re going well - you seriously have to challenge that.”

Long-time ex-fest organiser Simon Green supports shortening the festival, but says he’d prefer it ran for five days, still opening on Friday but finishing the following Tuesday with the former Mardi Gras street party.

“The struggle has always been trying to fill the week in between when you’re loading the two weekends [with events].

“Over those 10 days you lose the atmosphere and energy that I think you could condense into something that would have a lot more impact.”

Budd denies shrinking the festival is an attempt to cut costs – “in fact, it may well cost just as much as it does now because we’ve still got to operate and run a lot of things”.

Snow or no snow, it’s still likely to run in late June, a week or so before the busy school holidays, “to announce to New Zealand, Australia and the world that Queenstown’s winter season has opened”.

Budd expects the four days will span Thursday till Sunday or Friday till Monday.

The opening party would stay - “that’s a fabulous event and the highest-profile event in terms of coverage that we get as a destination”.

Designing the rest of next year’s programme will start soon after this festival finishes.

“There will be some fall-out - we won’t be able to literally cram everything in.

“I think some of the big favourites will stay, as well as introducing some new things, and we’ll be testing sentiment for the favourites.”

Budd is challenging Queenstown’s residents and businesses to then maintain the buzz of festival throughout winter.

“Every week visitors come through the winter, we want them to have stuff going on, not only, of course, great skiing and all the other activities, but entertainment, whether it’s street events, night markets, whatever.”

Budd says DQ won’t own or run these other events, but would facilitate them.

Despite shrinking the festival, DQ remains totally committed to it being one of the world’s great winter celebrations.

Sponsors’ contracts would be renegotiated but Budd believes they’ll get more bang for their bucks.

“There’s no waning of interest but it’s difficult for them to maintain their presence for 10 days.”

He doesn’t believe media coverage will drop off - “if anything it will be enhanced as there’ll be more going on”.

In recent years, festival’s helped fill the town at an otherwise quiet time - despite axing six days, Budd says “there may be more spur for visitors to come knowing it’s just four days long”.

“It will be easier for locals as well, including businesses, because we’re asking them to put entries into lots of things.

“Hopefully we’ll get higher participation by tightening it up.”

scoop@scene.co.nz