Oyster festival loss big blow to tourism

    Chowing down on the local delicacy are (from left) Tere Ngu, Festival chairman John Edminstin and Bluff Town crier Ian ‘‘Harry’’ Holland during the opening ceremony of the 2021 Bluff Oyster & Food Festival. This year's festival has been cancelled due to the threat of Covid-19 and changes to the traffic light settings.Photo: Andrew Baird

    The organisers of the Bluff Oyster and Food Festival saw the writing on the wall and got in before it had to.

    Following the cancellation of this year’s Burt Munro Challenge and Southern Field Days, the trust running the popular Bluff Oyster and Food Festival announced last Thursday it had made the ‘‘hard decision’’ to cancel the event, scheduled for May 21.

    The festival has attracted thousands of people from across the country and sold out quickly every year. But festival chairman John Edminstin said discussions had been ongoing for a long time and members of the trust unanimously voted to cancel the event due to threat of a Covid-19 outbreak and changed traffic light settings.

    He believed it would be “irresponsible” to host the event.

    “We had hoped to be further along with our site developments and if the Club Hotel could have been demolished, we would have more space to allow better social distancing.

    “Increased compliance costs in a time when events may need to be cancelled after those costs were outlaid in advance were also a factor in the decision.’’

    The shift to the Red light setting announced on Sunday would have scuttled the event anyway due to limits on gatherings.

    Great South tourism and events general manager Bobbi Brown said the cancellation was totally understandable but would have a significant impact on the Southland economy.

    She said on its own the cancellation was sad, but alongside the other cancellations it added
    another layer of pressure to the region’s event industry.

    ‘‘It is just another disappointment for the region — especially for the volunteers running the event.’’

    Bluff community board chairman Raymond Fife said it was a big loss for the community as the event had drawn people from around the country to the coastal town.

    ‘‘It is a shame because it does provide a lot of opportunities not only for Bluff, but for the whole region.’’

    It was not the first time the event had been cancelled due to the Covid-19, the festival was cancelled in 2020, but came back stronger than ever in 2021, he said.

    ‘‘We now can only hope for the situation to be under control next year and we can enjoy this popular event.’’

    The festival committee had been due to make an announcement regarding ticket sales for this year’s event next month so no tickets had been sold for the event.