Seven things a community must do to become a Festival City
What does it take for a community to become a “festival city” – a place known for its events?
Not long ago, I was chatting with a business owner in Gilroy, California, home of the world famous Garlic Festival. She wanted to know what I thought of their brand. She told me the festival lasts three days and draws 100,000 attendees. Impressive, but my question was, “What’s your brand the other 362 days of the year.” Her response? “Got it.”
There are two sides to an event based brand: It puts you “on the map.” People around the world have heard of Gilroy because of the Garlic Festival. If it weren’t for the festival, most people in California would probably not have heard of Gilroy.
The challenge, however, is that being known for something is one thing, but turning that into cash through tourism spending is a whole other matter. And isn’t that the goal? If you want to hang your brand on a single event, will it generate enough revenues for your businesses to last the other 362 days of the year? Probably not.
So what does it take to own an event based brand, to be a “festival city”? Here are the seven things you must do to make it work.
1. You need at least 200 “event days’ per year. That’s right, 200. Not 5, 10 or 20. Now, that doesn’t mean 200 events, but 200 days with something happening. You could have 50 four-day events. A public market with daily entertainment would be considered an event day. More than 14 million people descend on the Pike Place Market in Seattle (yes, the place where they throw the fish), and every day there is an “event” for every visitor. This still leaves 165 days with little going on, but the point is, for that 52 weeks or weekends, people will ask, “I wonder what’s going on this weekend.” It creates top of mind awareness.
2. Your events must be worth a 50 mile (80 km) drive. Why would someone drive for an hour for a pancake feed they can get closer to home? For every event ask the question, “If this were taking place in a small town an hour from here, would I go?” If the answer is no, cross it off the list.
3. Being a festival city doesn’t mean you have to produce every event. You can recruit in classic car clubs, motorcycle rallies, quilt shows, pottery guild exhibitions, etc. and as long as they are open to the public and worth an hour’s drive (for the visitors with an interest in the genre), then you’ve got yourself another event.
4. Rural communities have to go big. If you want to become a festival city and you’re in a rural area hoping to attract visitors from your metropolitan primary markets, then add up how many events they host a year. If you want to own the festivals brand (and brands are all about ownership), you need to host more events and significantly different events than what they are hosting. Once again, if they can do the same thing closer to home, why head your way?
5. You need to have places to host these events that won’t disrupt your community’s traffic and daily flow of people. My favorite “event city” is Rapid City, South Dakota. They built Main Street Square, a one-acre plaza in the heart of their downtown and have a staff of four people who work full-time to program the square. There is always something going on and downtown Rapid City has become as big a destination as nearby Mt. Rushmore! The point is, they created a spectacular venue that allows them to have events like ice skating, Movies on the Square, car shows, concerts, food festivals and more. Check it out at www.mainstreetsquarerc.com
6. A Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) should not be the organization to manage an event brand. There should be a stand-alone festival and events organization charged with recruiting and managing the events brand.
7. There should always be a common thread through all of your events. If you want to be known as an events destination for families with young kids, then you should make sure your events are all focused on that demographic. The common focus is what your brand is all about. The bottom line? Being a festival city is an awesome brand, but it is never as simple as “let’s promote our five local events and call ourselves the event destination!” Many towns have tried it and I ask a very simple question: “How’s that working for you?”
You already know the answer.
Roger Brooks is a speaker and consultant in hospitality and tourism, destination development, community revitalization, branding, and economic development. His website is www.rogerbrooks.org
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