WinterFest 2020 dates – but boss steps down

Getting amongst it: Queenstown's MP Hamish Walker takes flight in the WinterFest Birdman

WinterFest 2019 promoted Queenstown to an online and social media audience of at least 119 million people, its outgoing director says.

Early estimates indicate a 33 per cent increase in ‘media reach’ on last year for Destination Queenstown’s flagship festival.

In total, that’s worth about $1.7 million in advertising dollars.

Festival director Rae Baker is chuffed and says it cements the festival as a permanent fixture on Queenstown’s calendar.

The 46th Winter Festival will be held June 18-21 next year.

“There’s benefits to the reach we get – that’s in economic impact, destination marketing and being able to showcase the place we live in.”

But, despite the success, she’s stepping down after two years in charge.

She’s decided “it’s the right time to pass the baton on . . . there’s nothing more to it”.

Baton pass: Rae Baker

The event organiser, who’s worked on global festivals like Edinburgh’s Fringe, was originally hired for a one-year contract that was subsequently made permanent.

“The primary goal for me was to make sure the festival was strong enough to last for another 45 years – and my professional view is that it is.

“I was hired to facilitate the new partnership deal [with Real Journeys], and I’ve done what I came to do.”

Recruitment for the director role will begin later this year.

The ‘media reach’ numbers don’t include every online platform, or TV and radio audience statistics.

Almost 45,000 people attended last year’s festival and $4.4m was pumped into the district over four days. Those numbers are still being crunched for this year’s event.

But the Crowne Plaza and Novotel hoteliers are happy with booking numbers, which are ahead of the same time last year they say.

Discussions on what next year’s festival will look like and sponsorship deals are already under way.

Baker says: “It’s really important that our Queenstown identity is maintained and a lot of that is through doing things like Monteith’s dog derby, bringing back the Splash for Cash and the hospo race.”

Locals have complained in recent years the festival has become too corporate. It reintroduced several on-mountain events this year, including the suitcase race.