The Fundamentals of Fun

Events & Festivals Bring Attention & Business to Communities


Events and festivals can increase tourism to a community, bring family and friends together, and even help local businesses garner new business.

"As evidenced around the world, festivals and events are among the most successful tools available to communities, states, regions and even countries to increase tourism, create powerful and memorable branding and imaging opportunities, bond people together, encourage positive media coverage, enhance economic impact, and add to the quality of lives for those who live there. Festivals and events are our 'calling cards,'" said International Festival & Events Association (IFEA) World President & CEO Steven Schmader, in a speech, "The Power of Celebration," he gave at a convention this year.

He also concluded from recent IFEA surveys that the "special events industry, worldwide, is now estimated to include over 4 to 5 million regularly re-occurring festivals and events large enough to require municipal support services, such as police, fire, parks, trash, etc.; add to that those one-time or less than annual major events (i.e., the Millennium Celebrations, the Olympics, World's Fairs, etc.).

"… The uncalculatable number of corporate celebrations, weddings, religious gatherings, school carnivals and others, and you start to understand the huge impact of our industry, with an estimated combined economic impact in the trillions of U.S. dollars and combined attendances that touch virtually every life on the planet several times over," he said.

The Latest Trends

When it comes to trends, fundraising events are becoming more common during late spring through the fall for churches, civic organizations, schools and other groups.

"Often these become annual events that draw large crowds. Many festivals are looking for a variety of attractions for all ages from toddlers to grandparents," said Chris Petroff, national sales manager for a Cincinnati-based manufacturer of concession equipment.

The most successful festivals are run with a focus on ease and efficiency, fundraising and engagement with the community.

"You want guests to have an enjoyable time, and the food you serve is an important part of the festival experience. Food attracts people and causes them to stay longer at your event because they don't have to leave when they're hungry," Petroff said. "Plus, fair food, like popcorn and cotton candy, offers an emotional benefit, particularly because of the nostalgic feelings it brings."


For example, one trend in festival food is simplicity, such as foods that are prepackaged or grab-and-go favorites.

"It helps to keep the lines moving, and as a result, the customers happy. Another trend you'll notice is that signature flavors are becoming highlights. Look for popcorn flavors in glazes or shake-on seasonings. Flavors like red velvet and pumpkin spice are showing up for funnel cakes," Petroff said, adding that cotton candy is available in a rainbow of colors and flavors, enabling you to create a custom experience for guests, as well as shaved ice with multiple flavors of syrups to choose from.

Other trends include the types of recreation equipment that have been popular at festivals. There has been a "healthy increase in portable adventure challenges such as climbing walls, ropes courses and similar high-profile attractions at events of all sizes," said Bill Carlson, director of sales and marketing for a Boulder, Colo.-based company that engineers and manufactures adventure devices for partners and companies that have attractions at events and festivals around the world.

"These add something new and exciting, and feed the need for people to constantly push their limits for excitement," he said.

"As attractions cater more to risk-takers and people seeking more complex challenges, equipment that works to minimize risk and reduces the need for highly trained staff becomes more important," Carlson added. "An example would be the use of an auto belay on a climbing wall, which reduces staffing and allows the high throughput you need at an event, while also mitigating risk."

Alex Delage, marketing and communications manager for a Canadian-based designer and manufacturer of mobile hydraulic stages, mobile staging, portable stages and more for sale or for rent, said that some trends he sees in the industry include an emphasis on safety (wind resistance, engineering certification on stage), as well as cost-effective solutions and creating new experiences, such as for fans at a music festival.

Events and festivals can increase tourism to a community, bring family and friends together, and even help local businesses garner new business.

In the past few years there were a few accidents related to the stage. The industry is making sure everything is done by a local engineer. "It's about safety now," Delage said.

Cost savings is another trend. "You always want to make the maximum with the money," he said.

With products that are fast to install, for a community that means you need less staff to dismantle the stage. "You don't need to use the venue or park for three or four days. The stage can be set up in one day. Again, it's cost-effective," Delage noted.

Creating new experiences to connect with fans is on trend, too. With streaming websites available, people have easy access to high-definition music.

"It's about the quality of experience, being with other people, having a complete experience," he said.

Perhaps on a larger scale, and not necessarily for community events, VIP experiences are more popular, and creating an experience for your attendees to make them feel important, Delage noted.

"The main trend is really about experience, whether you have a smaller event or not, you always need to work on something for the visitors. Bringing new community to the area," he said.

Moreover, "brand integration is always a good thing in how you can offer visibility and integrate brands at your event," he added.

Advertisers always are looking for new ways to expand their brand. Brands can add value by creating their own VIP tent, or having an experiential marketing activity. People now want to take a picture of themselves, and post it on Facebook, saying, "Hi, I was there … I was at this event."

The Nuts and Bolts

When it comes to the fundamentals of putting on a festival, "effective fundraising is probably the most essential piece of the puzzle," Petroff said.

"There are a lot of elements that contribute to it," he said. "First, is to consider your audience. Is the purpose for families with children, or are you focused on catering to adults only? Your audience will determine the location and what types of entertainment and activities may be offered. Choose a theme or creative name for your event to add appeal to your marketing."


Next, food is one of the most profitable aspects, so you'll want to make sure you are well equipped with items that are quick-serve and popular.

"If purchasing food equipment is not optimal, you have the option to rent," Petroff said. "And, don't neglect the essentials like parking, electrical power, tables and chairs, etc. In general, you may want to speak with other event planners or visit similar types of events to see what works well and what you'd do differently. Overall, make sure you give yourself enough time to properly plan and prepare; many suggest beginning a year or more in advance."

Planning also is key to ensure a festival's success.

For staging, as an example, you need a site map, audience flow, production requirements, safety plans (weather monitoring, evacuation plan, emergency services and execution plan).

You need to define your needs, too. For example, consider stage size, attendance, frequency and scope of your event, what it will be used for and what expertise your team has. Mounting a stage requires very specific expertise, and the transmission of that knowledge is not easy. Such elements will define the training and support you require, according to information from Delage's company.

In addition, you need to consider sponsorship, catering, bands, travel and promotion, he said.

Spectator Seating

Good seating structure also is important to putting on a successful festival, and can bring communities together.

"Festival venues benefit from reliable bleachers or grandstands by providing comfortable viewing for attendees, making them stay longer to enjoy the festivities offered," said Georgia Tippens, marketing manager, surfacing and seating, for a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based playground and recreation equipment supplier.

If your community is looking to create a venue with seating, she said, there are a few answers that you need before you start.

"How many people do you plan to accommodate? Does the crowd need to be elevated to view the action or stage? How many different ways can this structure be used? Does the structure need to be permanent or do you want to be able to move it? Once these basic questions are answered, site dimensions, building codes, accessibility, understructure, to name a few, should be discussed and determined with the help of a bleacher and grandstand expert," Tippens said.

The possibilities for festival seating are endless.

"Structures are available for small groups of 20 to large crowds of thousands. Small crowd seating that is portable can be an option if your location is used for more than one event. Standard bleachers are generally two to 10 rows and can be various lengths depending on your available space and seating capacity needs," she explained.

"Large-scale grandstands can be constructed to accommodate events or shows that will bring in more viewers. Available options include ADA-accessible design, VIP chairs and benches for added comfort, or widened seat and foot planks for more spectator space," she added.

For bleachers and grandstands, prices range based on size, location and design.

"Communities can spend less money by purchasing smaller, standard design bleachers such as a five-row to 15-foot model," she said. "Standard bleachers can range in size and price. And spending generally increases with seating capacity, customization and special accommodations. Additional budget considerations include site preparations, installation and inspections."

The Community

Events and festivals are a great way to foster community spirit.

"For family fun and entertainment, you not only serve those within your locale, but also create a draw to visitors from outside your immediate area," Petroff said. "It's a way to promote hometown businesses. And it demonstrates a sense of appreciation for those who live and work within the community. Ultimately, it serves as a fundraiser, generating dollars that go back into the local area."

And, "the more attractions you can offer that are of interest to the widest possible range of ages and personality types, the more satisfied attendees will be in the end," Carlson said.

At an events and festivals convention this year, Schmader gave a speech, "Festivals & Events: The 'Core of Community," and stated, "In a constantly changing, complex and often frightening world, there is a real need for consistent, trusted, safe and positive outlets that bring us all together; outlets that are an essential part of building and ensuring common community visions and quality of life. That celebrate who we are when we are at our best. That serves as our community 'calling cards.'"

He went on to say that, "Those in our industry and those we partner with often talk about the economic impact of our events and organizations to the communities that we serve—a topic that has come up more often in the last decade as city, county, state, provincial, territorial and national governments look to justify their continued support (in cash and/or services) of those events."

Delage added that festivals can gather a community together, and offer synergy and pride. They also can "Promote local companies, [give a] strong sense of belonging and togetherness, charity, fundraising, visibility and income for local businesses (restaurants, hotels, etc.)."

Make It Memorable

To make your event or festival unforgettable, Petroff suggested that the ultimate goal should reflect the priorities of the organizations and the community holding the event.

"In general, you want to see attendance numbers up, thorough engagement by attendees and positive fundraising numbers," he said.


"To make it memorable, make it your own. This applies to everything from food to entertainment," Petroff added. "Find signature ways to leave an impression by mixing classic favorites with fresh, new ideas to create a unique experience."

Making an event or festival memorable means "giving back to your residents (community), [having] nonprofit support or an environmental cause," Delage noted.

"The goal is to create an experience (more than just a show)," he added, "and bringing people together."

In his "The Power of Celebration" speech, Schmader said, "Ours is an industry that is built around dreams and imagination; and the people who understand not only the importance of dreaming, but know how to make them come true. We are an industry of 'memory makers.' We are also community builders, storytellers, vision painters, bridge builders and the purveyors of possibility.

"We bring families, friends, communities, countries and peoples together. We help them celebrate the special things in their lives, inspire them to see more, and provide the spark that allows them to light the world around them. That is the gift that our industry brings to the world and that is the legacy that we will leave," he said.