Impacts of the coronavirus are affecting the Charleston hospitality and tourism industry into 2021 as Charleston Wine & Food has canceled next year’s festival, originally scheduled for March 3-7.
Officials attributed the decision to growing concerns around COVID-19.
“This was a tough decision to make — this festival is an important event for the City of Charleston and our favorite way to bring people together to share stories and connect,” Steve Palmer, chair of the Charleston Wine & Food board, said in a news release. “However, the safety and security of our guests, participating talent, staff, vendors and community is of the utmost importance and one that should take precedence above all else.”
The festival draws nearly 28,000 guests to the Charleston area annually. With more than 120 events over five days, it created a $19.9 million economic impact for the Charleston economy in 2020, an almost 7% increase from the previous year, according to the College of Charleston Office of Tourism Analysis.
As one of the first large festivals in Charleston to cancel events into next year, Charleston Wine & Food made its announcement seven months out from the original scheduled date.
“We are deeply connected to the hospitality and restaurant industry, so it’s not as simple as two-months’ worth of planning prior to the festival; planning takes a year, sometimes more,” said Gillian Zettler, executive director of Charleston Wine & Food.
“A huge priority is consumer confidence to produce such a large-scale event, so what I’m focused on is making sure we can welcome people back to Charleston in 2022 feeling safe and secure,” Zettler said.
Chris Campbell, director of communication and strategic planning at Explore Charleston, said the decision to cancel the festival is understandable, given all the dynamics that play into such a large event.
“Anytime you lose an event of this caliber and magnitude, it’s going to have an impact that touches a lot of other parts of the community,” Campbell said. “We’re disappointed they can’t host the event, but we agree that it was the right decision, as difficult as it was. Public health and safety is the paramount concern, and that’s ultimately what any of these events, and all of us in the industry, are keeping at the forefront.”
This will mark the first time the festival has not taken place since it was founded in 2005, and officials say other plans are in motion to pivot the events. Charleston Wine & Food said it plans to collaborate with community partners to produce digital content and livestreamed conversations over the next nine months. Plans for the 2022 festival programming and schedule will also be released in late spring, as opposed to the usual end of August.
“The reaction so far has been undeniably supportive, and there has been a little bit of relief from people since it’s a very large event that involves a lot of people and takes a whole village to put together,” Zettler said. “But if anyone is resilient, it’s the hospitality industry, so it’s our job to be innovative and creative and to be resilient ourselves between now and our 2022 schedule.”