The Show is back – that’s the big take-out after years on the slide, with attendances just shy of 50,000 over the weekend and a big increase in families through the gates.
This year’s cut to ticket prices did the trick with the early numbers showing a 25 per cent increase in attendance, and a 150 per cent boost to sales of family passes.
Brilliant weather and a re-imagination of the Royal Canberra Show driven by new CEO Athol Chalmers also made a difference, and while not everything went to plan, the course is now set for the Show of the future.
Mr Chalmers said there was now a solid platform to build on, and he was already thinking about expanding the main arena entertainment with fresh events.
“The next thing is for me to go to sponsors, now we’ve got a product which is on the improve, the numbers and feedback are good, it gives us an opportunity to get some additional sponsors on board.”
And he had a message for the ACT Government which is about to embark on a review of Exhibition Park – “don’t move it, invest in it and build a better entertainment precinct”.
“They should be turning EPIC into a world-class arena. It just needs investment, some of the buildings and facilities are a bit old and tired,” he said.
Mr Chalmers said Sydney connections had praised the site, saying it was a fantastic venue to build on.
He said it could also be a conference and trade show venue, and with light rail running past it, EPIC will be even easier to get to and from.
Ironically, the light rail works may have been part of the problem over the weekend when getting into EPIC and finding a park proved difficult.
Mr Chalmers said there were long queues and waits to get a parking spot and some even turned around and went home.
“It was a function of the numbers, but also a function of the stuff going on around EPIC – Flemington Road, down the highway, all the different light systems,” he said.
Access will be easier when light rail is operating but he flagged creating more parking spots and talking to the police and Government about managing the traffic management issues better next year.
Mr Chalmers also flagged finding a better location for the new Canberra On Show community event which had difficulty drawing people to the top end of the park, despite the talent on offer.
He said many people tended to walk past on their way to the heart of the show without stopping, and some stall holders were disappointed.
“The concept is still a really good one, it’s just getting them in a spot where there is more traffic going through,” Mr Chalmers said.
But overall exhibitors and vendors were delighted with the 2019 Show and convinced that it was on the right track.
Entries were mixed but with 2700 horses and 4000 events the horse section was the biggest ever, while cattle and sheep held their own despite the drought.
“One of the things that came out was that for a lot of farmers, it’s an opportunity to get off the property and spend some time talking to their buddies rather than being isolated on the farm worrying about the drought,” he said.
The woodchopping returned to big crowds and its popularity meant that it was likely to be a three-day event next year.
Mr Chalmers said he expected the Show to be back in the black but it would take the next two or three weeks to establish its financial position.