Wildfoods Festival operator steps away, future unknown

The future of the Wildfoods Festival is up in the air after its operator, Destination Westland, decided it would step away from managing the annual event.

The council-run organisation made the decision not to operate any future events “reluctantly” due to high financial risk.

Meanwhile, Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said the council would not commit to picking up the reins following the departure of Destination Westland.

“I can assure people in our region that we always work in the best interests of our ratepayers and, watch this space,” Smith told Newstalk ZB.

“[Destination Westland] are charged with making commercial returns and they’ve made the decision that it’s is not for them, we completely respect their decision.”

Held in Hokitika, the Wildfoods Festival celebrated 30 years of bringing weird and wonderful delicacies to adventurous foodies this March.

Daring delicacies at the event included brain pate, chicken feet, lamb testicles, huhu grubs, snouts on a stick and nipples on a stick.

Destination Westland is owned by the people of Westland via their ownership of Westland Holdings Ltd.

The organisation staffs and manages a number of assets within the community, including pensioner housing, the Hokitika swimming pool and a number of events.

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith. Photo / File
Westland Mayor Bruce Smith. Photo / File

However, for the rest of 2019 and at any stage thereafter, the board has decided not to operate the Wildfoods, Ute Muster and other local events.

Destination Westland events manager Amber Popaite said the high financial risk to the overall business was of major concern to the board.

“This decision has been reluctantly taken due to the high financial risk to the overall business, the huge staff and senior management resource commitment and the resultant distraction away from the key commercial focus required to provide the maximum return to our shareholder,” she said.

Smith said 2019 was the first time the event had been run under contract and not internally by the Westland District Council.

He said the Destination Westland operated event was “very successful” and the council was pleased with how it was managed.

Despite this, Smith wasn’t surprised Destination Westland’s board made the decision not to run any future events.

“It’s our most important event … the bill report had it producing around $6.5 million of GDP each year to the people of Westland,” Smith said.

“It’s hugely important and there are about 60 community groups that earn their entire fundraising by having a stall or providing a service to Wildfoods.”