News this week Margaret River’s Gourmet Escape is dead in the water will likely trigger a new opportunity in the events market, with local tourism chiefs keen to get involved. Tourism Minister Roger Cook informed Parliament on Tuesday that Tourism WA had made the decision not to extend the event’s contract, which occurred after owners IMG Culinary failed to get the past two year’s Gourmet Escapes off the ground amid tough COVID-19 restrictions. The festival — which had a troubled history in the Margaret River region and often copped flack from residents — was expanded in recent years to include Perth’s Swan Valley and Rottnest, but failed to fire. While contentious, the escape was a big contributor to global recognition of the Margaret River brand and luxury publications this week were still touting 2022’s undisclosed line-up which previously featured big names such as Heston Blumenthal — who cancelled at the last minute — and Nigella Lawson. Industry sources expected IMG to take the event over east, with previous talk around Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. IMG’s Australia-New Zealand managing director Chris Gilbert expressed disappointment in the State Government’s decision and told the Times the company was “exploring opportunities” for the event’s future. “We look forward to sharing news of Gourmet Escape’s evolution in due course,” he said. “As the owner and operator of many popular live events, we are always exploring opportunities to bring memorable experiences to consumers and brands across Australia.” Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Sharna Kearney said her group was keen to be involved in Tourism WA’s support for a new venture in the crucial November timeslot. “Successful event delivery requires many stakeholders working together and we are keen to play a leading role in defining what good looks like for our region,” she said. “The Gourmet Escape has played a significant role in helping to shine a spotlight on the region as a premier food and wine destination, but the time is right to reassess the event, and we look forward to working with the State Government to reimagine an event that is an engaging expression of our people and place.” Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said the Government’s decision beggared belief “at a time when the WA Government should be enticing visitors from across Australia and the world”. “This was one of the region’s key tourism events attracting world-renowned chefs and underpinning this region’s significant wine export industry,” she said. “It was very disappointing when the McGowan Government made the decision in 2018 to replace the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, with a diluted WA Gourmet Escape across three locations. “This decision to now completely axe any future funding for WA Gourmet Escape is another blow to the region’s wine industry and many local businesses.” Mr Cook said the pandemic had cast a shadow of doubt over the festival’s financial viability. “Given the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on events, Tourism WA is reassessing the current delivery model of a WA culinary event,” Mr Cook said. Mr Cook said the Government recognised the hard work and dedication of IMG and appreciated the visitation and promotional benefits it had delivered to the State.