The International Culture Wine & Food Festival (ICWFF) is on the cards for its 25th version after a two-year pandemic hiatus, this weekend. And ICWFF chair Janet Johnson describes the festival as “new improved and ever-evolving.”
Among participating countries are Trinidad & Tobago, Ghana, Morocco, Greece and Germany Haiti, Jamaica and others who will create their own cultural villages within the main festival, complete with music from their country. The festival is oversubscribed in the Bahamian section.
The festival has also been relocated from the Botanical Gardens, the perennial home of the festival which is under renovation, to Collins House Gardens on Shirley Street and Collins Avenue.
This year, being so close to Halloween, the ICWFF is introducing a haunted house for the first time and partnering with a costume vendor. Johnson said they wanted to engage youngsters and give them challenging fun stuff to do and partnered with Goombay Kids.
“The festival is all about culture and heritage and Bahamians all mixed up like conch salad. Our lineage is British, Caribbean, American etc. … so we thought it fitting to have a talk about ancestry and DNA and will be introducing our ancestry version of 23&Me.”
With food tourism all the rage, she said food festivals and cooking demos are of interest to visitors wanting to learn about the culture through food. As a result, they will have culinary demos by celebrity chefs who are in the tourism trenches and on the frontlines every day catering to visitors and preparing Bahamian dishes.
The Bahamas Humane Society (BHS) will have a presence and a sip and paint your pet at the festival as a fundraiser for the BHS, where patrons can have a photo of their dog or cat blown up on a canvas and get to paint it.
The festival’s transition from festival dollar currency to the digital wallet is also new.
Johnson is excited about fintech solution to make festivals safer.
“Vendors are not accumulating cash and customers feel free to spend because it’s like a credit card transaction; parents can load up their kid’s digital wallet on the cell phone so they can wander off and go enjoy themselves.”
ICWFF is actually 28 years old however, the festival has been on hiatus twice, once in 2008 for a year when the former chairman, the late James Catalyn decided to move on, and again in 2020 and 2021 owing to the pandemic.
This year the ICWFF is honoring Dame Janet Bostwick. Johnson said the festival was Bostwick’s brain child.
“So, it’s a time for reflection, looking at how we started and what we’ve grown to and where we are headed,” said Johnson.
“The ICWFF is a food tourism event that has a lot of potential. It is a homegrown product and once they discover it, it has all the right ingredients to cause for travelers to want to arrange their travel itineraries around it. It was started to mark the 50th anniversary of the United Nations and it takes place on or around UN Flag Day, [the] third weekend in October to celebrate the harmonious blending of multiple cultures here in The Bahamas. This year, on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee, we will be honoring Dame Janet [Bostwick], who was the then Minister of Foreign Affairs who established the festival in 1995,” she said.
“In 2015 we staged a framed exhibit in Rawson Square, and fast forward to 2022, and we are using technology to create an exhibit pitch deck that we will place on social media. So ICWFF is ever-evolving, paying tribute to the past and bringing in the new techniques.”
In 2016 they introduced an electronic guidebook as patrons preferred to go to the large map of the festival to locate their favorite vendors. This year they are bringing the virtual guidebook back. Johnson said it will come with all the bells and whistles and guests can download the app onto their phones.
“Festivalgoers will be able to click on the site map and click within the map on vendors and their displays will pop-up and tell you all about their presentation of food, drink, jewelry, toys etc., and where to find them. ICWFF has always tried to stay on the cutting edge. Every year we try to refresh and add new elements to the festival offerings.”
Coming out of the pandemic lockdowns, Johnson said they thought it was the perfect time to take a good look at the festival.
“Having recently achieved non-profit status and having to do things differently, we decided we needed a business plan which meant doing a forensic overview of all aspects of the festival. Our deep dive highlighted the longevity, sustainability and authenticity of this coveted event. It also illustrated how flexible the festival was and how seamlessly we are able to pivot in your cashless environment from our festival dollars currency to Sand Dollar on the digital platform.”
Johnson said this year, ICWFF organizers are being proactive and more discerning in their choice of vendor and sought businesses that they think will do well at the festival and that patrons would want to engage with in a festival setting.
Johnson said they have been proactive, and in collaboration with cruise ship ground operators, put together a cruise festival package that they are hoping they will promote on their websites and reservation portals so when customers book their cruise for that weekend, they will book the festival tour as well.
“In our research for the business plan, we found that in 2019 there were nine ships in port over that festival weekend, representing an aggregate of 35,000 passengers. Imagine, if only five percent of them visited the festival what a difference it would make for our vendors. We are leaving far too much money on the table and we can no longer sit idly by and let it just sails away with the ships. So, we’re hoping to see an appreciable difference in visitor numbers. This year there are tentatively six ships expected over our holiday weekend.”
Johnson said they also plan to engage the University of The Bahamas research students in collecting survey data so they can gauge year-on-year how the festival is performing and what patrons like and don’t like. Data collection she said is important as a critical guide and will help to inform their business plan moving forward.
“ICWFF is not only a festival for locals and foreign nationals living here, it is an attraction to help the tourist market ergo, to generate money in the economy.”