What a food film festival tells us about the potential to extend Atlantic Canada’s tourism season
Atlantic Canada’s tourism season has always been a brief one, consisting of a few short months in the summer and the fall.
But Wolfville, Nova Scotia’s Devour! The Food Film Fest, the brainchild of Chef Michael Howell, proves the region can attract scores of tourists even when it’s too cold to go to the beach or sit on a restaurant patio enjoying a seafood dinner. The festival, now in its seventh year, is held in late October in this pretty little town in the Annapolis Valley. It is a festival that focuses on films about food and wine culture as well as showing off delectable cuisine prepared by top chefs from around the world.
Howell started it in 2009. Back then his aim was simple—he wanted to come up with an event that would keep his Wolfville restaurant full after Thanksgiving weekend. His solution was to try a small film festival focused on food culture. To his delight, about 1,000 people showed up and his restaurant was busy during the two-and-a-half day event. The festival has continued to grow ever since. In 2016 Howell says over 10,000 tickets were sold for festival events, and its budget is now in the $450,000 range with five paid staff (two of them full-time) and an advisory board that includes Canadian actor Jason Priestley of Beverly Hills 90210 fame.
More importantly, the festival draws a substantial number of visitors to the Annapolis Valley and Nova Scotia during a time when tourism is dead in rural parts of the province. A four-year economic analysis of the festival found that in 2016 it had an economic impact of approximately $1.7 million in Wolfville and $2.65 million in Nova Scotia.
Howell says there are opportunities across Atlantic Canada to develop similar events that extend the tourism season beyond its traditional limit. “We’ve got to persuade people that summer is not the only time to be here,” Howell says. “You do that by developing cool and interesting events that capitalize on the culture or uniqueness of a community or region.”