Leaked press release reveals Papalia to dump Gourmet Escape for 'metro-centric' events

A leaked government press release obtained by WAtoday confirms Tourism Minister Paul Papalia will dump the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, one of the state's premier regional tourism events.

In the document, which is understood to have been dropped exclusively to another media outlet, Mr Papalia said the nation's premier food and wine festival would be replaced by a Western Australia Gourmet Escape which would be held in the Swan Valley, Perth and Margaret River.

US sporting events giant IMG won the contract to run the event, according to the press release, but the amount the company would be paid or the costs of the new event were not specified.

Shadow Tourism Minister Libby Mettam blasts the government's imminent announcement on the Margaret River Gourmet Escape.

Photo: 6PR/Cassidy Mosconi

"The Swan Valley program will promote the region's reputation as one of Australia's oldest wine regions and celebrate the area's rustic charm, history and produce," Mr Papalia said in the leaked statement.

He said the Margaret River component of the event would be "just as big".

Part of the new event would be a "trade focused global initiative" to be called the World's Gourmet Symposium.

"The annual, globally promoted event will encourage maximum visitation to the region from chefs, restauranteurs and businesses in the hospitality industry based in Australia, the Asia-Pacific region and around the world," the document read.

The new Western Australian event had been "secured until 2021 with an option to extend".

In the statement, Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan said she was pleased support for a regional component of the event would continue.

"This event drives employment across multiple industries which is critical for supprting local economies, including growers and food businesses to improve employment opportunities in the regions," she said.

Shadow Tourism Minister Libby Mettam criticised the decision, which she said was "metro-centric".

Ms Mettam said the Margaret River Gourmet Escape brand had taken seven years to develop and spreading it across three different locations would be a blow for the tourism industry, which was already struggling with a fall in visitor spending.

"The Tourism Minister has trashed an internationally recognised brand that underpins the region’s significant wine export industry, in favour of a cobbled together, watered-down metro-centric event that completely short-sells the state’s tourism offering," she said.

A state government spokeswoman said Ms Mettam hadn't been briefed about tomorrow's announcement and her comments were misleading and misinformed.

"While the exciting announcement with all the detail will be released tomorrow, what we can say is the Margaret River brand will not be diminished but boosted and the state government’s investment has grown significantly, as has the event budget," she said.

"[Mr Papalia] has travelled to the Margaret River region today to confidentially brief key stakeholders as a respectful courtesy prior to tomorrow’s announcement."

But Ms Mettam said the announcement would be particularly disappointing for Margaret River tourism operators.

"Despite our out-of-touch Tourism Minister dismissing the Margaret River Gourmet Escape as fluffy brand awareness and just a holiday for celebrity chefs, it is a world-class event with an international reputation and to dilute that brand is short-sighted," she said.

"It's yet another blow to the Margaret River region which is still trying to deal with the impact of the cancellation of the Margaret River Pro and the uncertainty around that event's future."

The event had attracted international chefs and personalities such as Heston Blumenthal, Nigella Lawson, Marco Pierre White and Rick Stein.

The last Margaret River Gourmet Escape will be held in November this year.

The new Western Australia Gourmet Escape will take place over 10 days.

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