The endless event challenge

Published Friday 29 January 2016

It was with great sadness when I heard the news that the parent company of Berardo’s, the iconic Noosa restaurant, which also owns and organises the iconic Noosa Food and Wine Festival (NFAWF), folded into voluntary administration.

Noosa Food and Wine Festival (NFAWF) Administrator John Cunningham declared the festival suffered significant losses during the 2014 event from which they just couldn’t recover in 2015.

This was put down to things that were beyond the control of any event operator. Destructive regional weather, low attendance and a terribly soft economy, therefore low tourism interest.

The news came through of the end of this era just as our own Port Douglas Carnivale was doggedly celebrating its 22nd year.

As General Manager of the Carnivale I have a kindred sympathy for Jim Berardo. The Food and Wine Festival Noosa built a significant reputation during its 12 years, attracting a wide range of celebrities through shear hard work and dedication just as the 22yr old Carnivale had done.

The Carnivale always waited for confirmed Noosa dates to avoid a clash of timings. Carnivale knew that so many Celebrity Chefs and TV foodie cognoscenti would make Noosa their priority.

I have been involved in organising events for over 30 years now and nothing guarantee's success. There is no such thing as a ‘dead cert’ regardless of it’s longevity as a consolidated event or as a brand new idea that captures a trendy and popular current theme. I can affirm that every individual event has it’s own dangers and dilemmas to overcome.

Issues crop up beyond the organising teams control. A crisis can swoop in from left field at any time and devastate any carefully prepared and well laid plans. There’s no point in reckoning that the management team should have foreseen and therefore been ready for these problems.

Of course, management teams have to be versatile and flexible enough to cope with each crisis as it appears. Inadvertently, that takes time and diverts attention away from their schedule of activities.

For example, in the 6 week lead up to Carnivale 2015, the independent organisation who controlled two of Carnivale's largest and most established core events went into receivership. How do you find someone with the available resources to step in and take over events of this size at the eleventh hour?

Naturally putting this catastrophe right had to take priority but it dessimates your plans because during this time, we should have been finalising corporate sponsorship arrangements, volunteer management, traffic control plans and venue site plans.

As if this crisis wasn’t enough, the critical two weeks immediately prior to the Carnivale opening Brisbane experienced unpredicted but devastating flooding, destroying beer production to six of the eight micro-breweries booked to feature in the Carnivale Beer & Cider Festival.

There was not enough time to produce another batch of beers for the festival and as much as we would like to think so, two breweries do not a festival make!!

We had no option but to cancel the event. How do you fill such a prized vacant date in the calendar within 14 days?

Unless you have been involved in managing events, you may be forgiven for looking at these problems at face value, inadvertently disregarding the domino effect that is always generated from such a crisis, let only a series of disasters like these.

The event managers going into receivership was bad enough, but their closure made the key alcohol volume deal unviable.  It was secured across the Longest Lunch andThe Food and Wine events, plus the second Saturday night degustation. The alcohol volumes consumed for one event would not satisfy the agreement and sadly the degustation also had to be cancelled, to avert a massive financial loss for the catering organization.

Despite these unexpected catastrophes most events wrestle their way to the finishing line. And as the doors open, the organisers swap a frown for a smile and the (hopefully) milling crowds never know just how bloomin’ hard it all was as they take their seats to enjoy the show.

Most events do not stand on their own two feet. Most have to be subsidised in some way or another to launch by a range and combination of local Council, State, Federal, corporate and commercial sponsorship funding's. This brings its own pressures because, quite rightly, every event has to explain post event where the public or corporate money has been spent. Not as easy as it sounds.

The variety of expertise needed in an event management team is wide and varied. Trying to run an event without the full complement of expertise is likely to bring about its own issues. This combination of pressures and issues, needs, probably deserves, some assistance to give each event the best shot at success.

You may raise your eyebrows and ask why should independent event organisers be supported either financially or in kind?

To answer this question satisfactorily you have to accept that, 'event tourism,'  is important to a region. To establish a 12 month calendar of events, to me, is a vital supporting component for our established tourism industry whether it be of the traditional kind or for special interest categories.

We are lucky enough to have the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree River and Rainforest on our doorstep. These two world heritage locations generate a very healthy tourist market on their own. With the third leg of event tourism added, the quieter times could be rejuvenated with a whole plethora of specialist spectator and participation events to enjoy, adding to the traditional seasons that generic tourism delivers.

And guess what, whatever you come to the Douglas Shire to enjoy, a sporting event, specialist workshops or conferences, you can also enjoy the Reef and the Rainforest…it’s called a double whammy of success.

Naturally no event would nor should be subsidised forever. The whole idea of grants from governmental bodies is usually to help get an event started with a view that it will eventually stand on its own two feet. The only reason grant funding remains consistent, is because the events planned are free of charge to the local residents and the local council considers it a benefit of the community.

Noosa didn’t get that luxury, it was considered a commercial entity. Yet really it should have been considered by everyone as a community event because that’s what it was. Everyone enjoyed it and benefited from it whether financially or from the fantastic community morale that it generated from the fun of the festival.

The lessons to be learnt from the Noosa Festival would strongly suggest that each event in our region takes a good hard look at itself. Decide if it may need some help to maintain whatever level of success it has achieved and how it can progress regardless of any destructive pressures that squeeze the status quo.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that a twelve month events calendar is a vital element to shore up and support the regions tourist activities. Let us not suddenly discover or take for granted that established events and festivals, like Noosa Food and Wine, struggle to stay afloat and that includes our own Carnivale because we didn’t give it enough community support.

I applaud all and every event manager. I know how hard it is to pull off a great event. Let’s make sure the community gets involved and applies the necessary pressure on themselves and the relevant official bodies to continue building a prestigious, enjoyable and exciting calendar of events that can be a viable proposition. After the all important Return on Investment (ROI) doesn’t always have to be financial.

I guarantee a well constructed calendar of events will put a smile on every ones face and that’s a real ROI !!