Winter Boosts Through Festivals

As days get shorter and a little cooler, your mind will most likely turn to filling the off-season drop in occupancies.

Festivals and events are a natural default thought. Knysna, after all, packs the town with the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival. True, but there are several factors that are non-negotiables that will decide whether your occupancies will actually benefit. So let’s chat about a few of the factors and I will capture the rest in a Festival Toolkit that I will mail to you in early June.

The first consideration is often a bit sensitive if your Municipality is making a contribution to the revenues. You have to decide if your festival is a tourist-targeted festival or a local celebration. There is no grey area here. If it is a tourist festival, any locals that attend are a bonus. Local celebrations are much needed, but they will never generate meaningful occupancies.

A tourist festival needs to have the entertainment and events centred on what will attract the visitors that we are targeting. If locals choose to attend these events, all good, but their needs and likes are of little consequence.

Port Elizabeth’s Splash Festival started as a beach and watersport festival, and had family elements and fireworks to keep the families entertained. The competitors boosted the occupancies and progressively non-sporting visitors made PE their Easter destination as they enjoyed the vibe. After peaking in its twelfth year, the watersport activities became less important and the entertainment progressively changed to meet the tastes of the locals. Visitors found it less and less of an attraction and occupancies started reducing.  Importantly, I must point out that this is NOT a racial thing. The change of the profile of the activities attracts those who enjoy this mix of entertainment. As a result, the festival has been transformed into a local celebration.

It’s not just the activities that matter, but how and where it is marketed will also have an effect on the occupancies. You cannot target everyone in the country. You need to decide on the segment that you want to attract and then market to them in the channels and tone that they will respond to.

Finally, you have to have a festival name that stands out from the clutter. The Splash Festival is about watersports, the Oyster Festival is about a range of events and the scoffing of oysters, the Literary Festival is orientated around books, authors and opinions, and the Simola Hillclimb attracts petrol heads. Naming the festival after your town is a guarantee of disappearing into the pack and being ignored.

It’s a tough balance to maintain, but the rewards are multi-faceted. A successful festival generates occupancies and spending, word-of-mouth promotion and media coverage around the country. It should also generate income for community tourism initiatives and organisations.

So start thinking about your festival and I will send you a step-by-step guide in the Festival Toolkit in June.

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