Parting Shot: Time to get ruthless with shrunk festival


Commenting on Queenstown Winter Festival downsizing from 10 days to four, a local tourism consultant suggests that’s just the precursor to dropping the whole event.

The challenge for the advisory group planning next year’s shindig will be ensuring the event doesn’t go down that slippery slope.

Personally, I think event owner Destination Queenstown should be applauded for its brave move.

Plenty of locals will say it should have happened years ago.

For some time, it’s struggled to maintain its impact and interest, particularly between the two weekends that have bookended the festival.

In the country’s changing events landscape, it’s hard to think of any event that lasts as long as 10 days.

At the event’s 2007 debrief, former mayor and event co-founder Clive Geddes suggested festival should run over just a few days and then be supplemented by three or four other major events through the rest of winter.

Nine years later, it seems he’s now been listened to.

However, I do hope the new format won’t just compress existing events into four days.

I believe the trick is to come up new events or recyled former events, and to risk public opprobrium by chucking out some old favourites that may be past their use-by date.

Take the parade, for example. Apart from the efforts of the fire brigade, and the odd preschool group, it’s not a patch these days on the Arrowtown Autumm Festival parade.

Other regulars like the Birdman and drag race have struggled to get entrants.

I’d like to see the festival secure some headline-grabbing acts, as it used to with the likes of Jimmy Barnes and the Flight of the Conchords.

Ticketed events like the comedy debate and ball will continue to sell out, but there’s no reason you couldn’t have a free big outdoor gig at the same time.

Some old favourites like jazz night, the beer fest and even jelly wrestling could be revived.

Or how about another rail jam on the Recreation Ground?

It’s a risk in early winter, but maybe the skifields could host an extreme skiing or snowboarding event.

The challenge for organisers is to engage as wide a range of our local population as possible – from our Asian and South American communities to the very young, the very old and the very new.

Sure, we want visitors to come, but the broader the local engagement, the better the festival will be.

One event that used to touch a lot of the community was the downtown Mardi Gras.

I’ve heard a bit of support for former festival director Simon Green’s idea, espoused in last week’s Mountain Scene, that the truncated festival could stretch to five days, climaxing with Mardi Gras on the Tuesday.

Perhaps we could even invite back the local Lions Club to sell mulled wine as a fundraiser.

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