Feature Article - September 2017
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The Fundamentals of Fun

Events & Festivals Bring Attention & Business to Communities

By Deborah L. Vence

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."