This year's BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival left more than double the impact on the local economy than in 2009, a study by the College of Charleston's Office of Tourism Analysis found.

This year's total contribution to Charleston businesses rose from less than $2.4 million to nearly $5.1 million year over year, researchers found.

College of Charleston assistant professor Wayne Smith described the recession-blind results as "probably the truest number we've had" for the March event.

Smith gave three reasons for the considerable jump:

--The multiplier used by the state itself increased and that, when applied to a large crowd, makes a big difference.

--Surveyors worked with a better sample size of more than 600 people that included more group ticket-holders, instead of primarily individual sales.

--Ten percent more people came this year and stayed longer.

"They're in higher income brackets, and they're not going to be eating at McDonald's," Smith said. "If you add an extra night, that's going to add a lot of economic impacts."

Festival board chairman Rick Widman said that guests at his hotel properties, which include the John Rutledge House Inn and the Wentworth Mansion, booked their stays for the

Wine + Food weekend next year on their way out.

Widman and his wife, who have both been involved since the festival's inception, attended 17 events this year.

"It has grown, but it has also improved," Widman said. "This year and next year, we're trying to put more emphasis on the wine side, to elevate the tastings. We're always trying to make it the very best."

Previously called the BB&T Charleston Food + Wine Festival, the event celebrated its fifth anniversary this year.

An estimated 16,500 people attended, with about 40 percent coming in from at least 50 miles away.

Of those non-local attendees, 13 percent had not visited Charleston previously, and they spent about $160 per person more this year.

Eight percent of surveyed ticket-holders said they would likely return for next year's festival.

Wine + Food chose Louie's Kids, which raises money to treat childhood obesity, and Slow Food Charleston, which advocates for high-quality and socially responsible food, as its signature charities this year.

It also supports scholarships for the College of Charleston, the Culinary Institute of Charleston and The Art Institute of Charleston.

Wine + Food donated $20,000 to charity in 2008 and $70,000 in 2009.

Festival officials plan to announce this year's charitable contributions recipients in June.

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or abird@postandcourier.com.