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Tourism Tidbits Archive

Making your Festival a Success

February 2007

Tourism, government officials, and economic developers have long used special events and festivals as a means to increase tourism, and the revenue that comes from tourism. A study of Festivals’ history shows us that their economic impact extends (in the Western world) as far back as Biblical times. In fact the Jewish holiday of “Succoth” (Tabernacles or Booths in English translation) was not only a major pilgrimage festival but also a period when people shopped, stayed in inns and added a great deal to the local Jerusalem economy. Ever since Biblical times, festivals have served many of these same purposes. Festivals are means to promote new ideas, to increase commerce and trade along with increased name recognition. On the other side of the coin, festivals are hard work and are not guaranteed to be successful. In fact a poorly run festival can be both a money loser and hurt a community’s reputation. Below then are several ideas and checklists to make sure that your community’s festivals produce the desired results.

  • Make sure that the community is on-board/supports your festival. All too often tourism offices create festivals without first obtaining community support. A festival is not a tourism event, but a community event. If the community does not support it, there is very little likelihood of a successful tourism festival. People may use the festival as the principal reason to come to a community, but once there every aspect of your community becomes part of the festival. Your festival may well be judged not by what takes place at the festival but what happens outside of the festival’s grounds.
  • Make sure that the festival has some logical rasion d’être. That means that there should be some relationship between the festival’s theme and the community’s culture. A festival can be based on numerous underpinnings. Some of these underpinnings may be a historical event, such as a battle, a piece of literature, such as a famous novel, a natural phenomenon or even a visit from outer space, a cultural theme, such as a type of music, or a religious theme, such as a pilgrimage. The theme needs to be reflected throughout the community. For example, if a community has a theme based around space aliens and the locals refuse to support the theme, then the festival will soon die. The higher the level of community participation the more successful the community’s festival will be.
  • Decorate the town to match the festival’s theme. The way a community looks adds a great deal to the psychology of a festival. If a town’s center is filled with trash then a religious theme such as a Christmas pageant or festival of lights will not work. Such themes require a sense of spiritual uplifting and beauty. Before the festival’s start, make sure that hotels, restaurants, city maintenance people and local police and firefighters are all on the same page. Make sure that your public servants understand that the festival’s economic impact affects local revenues and without funding city employees cannot be paid.
  • Make sure that your community’s business-people understand the potential economic impact of a festival. In too many places around the world, business people tend to close their shops during a festival. Nothing could be less helpful. Festivals attract people from wide geographic areas. These are the times to make sure that business hours match festival hours. For example, if the festival operates on weekends, then make sure that local businesses are open over the weekend. Stores and other commercial establishments should adopt the festival’s theme and offer festival discounts. Connect festival tickets with possible discounts at local stores, restaurants and even hotels. If the festival’s site is located away from the business district, then create reasons for people to go from the festival’s grounds to the local shopping area.
  • Work with local officials to make sure that the festival management and the community’s officials are cooperating. For example, during a festival consider suspending parking fees or use fire trucks as a means to advertise festival events. Police officers may be asked to carry festival promotional materials or at the minimum should be briefed on the day’s festival activities. City offices may be kept open so that visitors can ask questions about the local community and can be used as additional hospitality centers.
  • Pay attention to details. Think through what can go wrong. Often festivals fail not because the idea is not a good one, but there were too many leaders and not enough people thinking through the festival’s details. For example, if you are charging an entrance fee, who will handle the money, how will change be made, may festival visitors enter only one time or can they enter the festival multiple times for the same price? These are decisions that must be made prior the start of the festival.
  • Work closely with your first responders, police, fire, and emergency medical personnel. It is essential that these government agencies be fully involved and understand exactly what is happening. For example, a police department can destroy a festival if it sees it as an opportunity to give out traffic tickets. Police officers should be briefed on the potential for lost children and a plan of action should be developed between the festival managers and local law enforcement. Fire fighters often are major festival draws and can not only prevent a tragedy but can add a great deal to the festival’s success. Make sure that your first responders know the type of people you expect at the festival. The medical needs of an older crowd for example may be different from those of a younger crowd.
  • Keep a checklist of potential problems and another checklist of how well you did. Do not be afraid to give yourself a festival report card. List such things as food concessions, entertainment quantity and quality, safety and security programs, local sanitation, economic spin-off, festival publicity, how festival was portrayed in the out-of-town media, and your transportation and parking. Then carefully keep records of what you did well and what needs to be improved upon. The best festivals are those who look at themselves in an honest and forthright manner.