The coronavirus public health emergency has forced the ACT Government to call off Canberra’s premier tourism event, Floriade, despite it being more than six months away.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the government could not guarantee the health and safety of all those involved and it was not logistically possible to proceed.
“After careful consideration, the ACT Government has decided not to proceed with Floriade and Floriade NightFest in Commonwealth Park this year,” he said.
“Given the significant planning and coordination required for Floriade, the ACT Government is not assured that the event can be set up and staged in a manner that guarantees compliance with current physical distancing requirements.
“Our concern is for the health and safety of our staff, visitors and volunteers.”
Preparations have been underway since last year and more than a million bulbs have already been procured for this year’s event.
Mr Barr said the government was now looking at planting them around the city for suburban displays come spring.
”They won’t be all concentrated in Commonwealth Park and we will take the opportunity with our Floriade team to keep them active and working to look at options to plant the bulbs around the city to improve our established garden beds and really make the city look fantastic at springtime,” he said.
”But we could not stage an event where you would be seeking to attract tens of thousands of people into one fairly compact location, even if outside.”
Mr Barr said the government was also investigating what aspects of Floriade could be delivered online.
”We are looking at what the other options are for elements of the Floriade experience to be delivered online, to provide some support for artists and creatives who would have otherwise undertaken activities during Floriade,” he said.
Experts are unclear how long the virus will take to work its way through the population or how long physical distancing must be maintained to slow its spread, but it is plain that with an event of Floriade’s size a decision on its fate needed to be made sooner rather than later.
It is another blow to Canberra’s event calendar, already reeling from the loss of major events such as the National Folk Festival and the Canberra International Music Festival.
Floriade is always a morale booster after Canberra’s winter chill and would have been especially welcome this year.
It also a major sugar hit for the ACT economy.
The annual spring floral festival has never been cancelled in its 32-year history, evolving from a community affair to become a major tourism driver and earner for the Territory.
The government says Floriade 2018 had an economic impact of $38.6 million, with 48.1 per cent of visitors attending the event from interstate or overseas.
Last year the festival and NightFest contributed to record numbers of tourists visiting Canberra, pulling 507,550 people through the gates across the month, smashing its previous 2014 record of 481,854 people and exceeding the 2018 gate by more 27,000.
In recent years, it engaged regional producers, showcasing some of the best products from the Canberra region, with Pialligo Estate, Capital Brewing Co., Contentious Character and Underground Spirits joining a range of local food vendors and market stalls.
Floriade was due to be staged from 12 September to 11 October 2020.