WinterBites festival in Comox Valley part of tactical plan

The first WinterBites festival provided 16 days of music and family-based activities enjoyed by locals and visitors last month in the Comox Valley.

The festival was the first in a series of events in a tactical plan to help drive awareness, visitation and economic activity to the region, especially during the 'shoulder season,' as stated by the Comox Valley Economic Development Society.

CVEDS partnered with Vancouver Island MusicFest, Mount Washington Alpine Resort, the City of Courtenay and Comox Valley Minor Hockey.

The latter hosted a pond hockey jamboree consisting of three weekend tournaments that attracted more than 20 teams from the Island and Lower Mainland.

The Association Hotel Room Tax was the major funding agent of WinterBites, which kicked off Jan. 16 with a concert at the Filberg Centre. The featured band was Chilliwack.

Alpha Ya Ya Diallo, Barney Bentall and Ashley MacIsaac were among performers during the festival. Venues include the Westerly Hotel, Crown Isle, Filberg Centre and Native Sons Hall. Eight of nine concerts sold out, with the ninth show about 85 per cent full.

"It was more than we could have hoped for for a first-year event like that," MusicFest executive producer Doug Cox said. "The community buy-in was incredible for our first year. It was a great event. The audience was very receptive. They kept thanking us for doing something in January."

While occupancy rates at the Holiday Inn Express in Courtenay have been down because of the disrupted ski season at Mount Washington, general manager Grant Smith said January would have been worse at the hotel without the festival.

"The WinterBites with the team component was really good; the music component was hard for us," said Smith, who sits on the Destination Marketing Advisory Committee.

Considering the absence of skiers, Smith said the team component helped minimize January losses at the hotel.

"But the music portion was an expensive part of it, and has to be looked at as to whether or not we participate fully in that again," he said.

Considering it was the first event of its kind, coupled with the mountain closure, Smith feels the festival overall was successful.

Members of Courtenay council also praised the event, which included a skating rink on synthetic ice at Simms Millennium Park. Upwards of 10,000 people visited the Fun Zone.

At this stage, there is talk about hosting a second WinterBites.


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