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Despite drop in attendance, Charleston Wine + Food sets record for economic impact

Wine + Food Culinary Village 04.JPG (copy)

Charleston Mix Bloody Mary samples are passed out in the Charleston Wine + Food Culinary Village at Marion Square on Friday, March 8, 2019, in downtown Charleston. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Nearly half of those who attended this year's Charleston Wine + Food Festival belong to a household earning more than three times the average American household, a statistic which helped the event bring a record amount of money into the Charleston area despite attracting 3,000 fewer attendees.

Executive director Gillian Zettler attributes the drop in ticket sales to a strategic plan to lower the caps on "several of our larger events, including the Culinary Village."

Overall, Zettler said organizers "couldn't be more happy and proud of this year's results." 

The March 6-10 festival contributed more than $18 million in economic impact to the Charleston area, according to the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis. In 2018, the festival’s all-time-high attendance of 29,072 people translated to an economic impact of $15 million.

This year's economic impact likely got a boost because 42 percent of people who went to the culinary event have a household income of $200,000 or more, the College of Charleston found by conducting an online survey sent via email to attendees who bought their tickets online. That's up from 2018, when 36 percent of attendees made at least $200,000. 

"It's always exciting to see people respond positively to our programming and have that excitement translate into attendance and our largest, measured economic impact to date," Zettler said. 

The 2019 festival, which included more than 100 events and appearances by “TODAY” show hosts, drew 11,671 out-of-town visitors. That number is down from 13,780 people in 2018 but more than the roughly 8,000 out-of-towners who attended in 2017. 

People traveled from as far as San Francisco, Washington state and Montana.

More locals than visitors attended Charleston Wine + Food, anchored by the three-day Culinary Village in Marion Square, this year. Of the total crowd of 25,746, 55 percent of people there called the Charleston area home.

The College of Charleston estimated each visitor spent about $955 in town on items such as festival tickets, food, beverage, lodging and souvenirs.

Charleston Wine + Food will return for its 15th year March 4-8, 2020.

Reach Amanda Hancock at 843-937-5320. Follow her on Twitter @Amanda1hancock.

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