How can tourism businesses benefit from “the Festival vibe?”

A refreshing weekend at Latitude got me thinking about why festivals are now so popular. Like many other people, I've discovered there's far more to them than muddy wellies and smelly loos.

Have you been to a festival recently? Have you been raving about the experience to your friends ever since? If so, you are not alone.

The 50 members of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) entertained 635,000 fans in 2014. The average festival-goer spent £466 each time (at the event itself and in local businesses), making festivals an important part of Britain’s summer tourist season. So what lessons and inspirations can other tourism businesses take from this surge in festival going?

Having just returned from a fabulous family weekend at Latitude in Suffolk, I think there are four key things we can learn about what makes festivals so popular. Tourism providers in particular should take note. After all, according to an AIF audience survey, 49% said they chose a festival instead of a holiday in 2014.

What’s the big attraction?

1)    Socialising – The whole family spends time together  

Festivals have come a long way from the days of only appealing to teens or twenty-something music fans. There’s now a whole raft of family-friendly festivals; one of the oldest is the Larmer Tree near Salisbury, which has been going 25 years. Their big selling point is their ability to appeal to all ages.

Although they often have special areas for children and teens, the main areas tend to be for the whole family. Here people can mingle with friends, listen to music and comedy acts, craft, watch theatre performances or fashion shows, or shop. The opportunity for children, teens and adults to enjoy time together in a relaxed, friendly and safe environment is a big draw for many people.
 

2)    Diversity – There’s something for everyone

Many festivals have cultivated an all-round appeal to cater for families or groups of friends with a variety of interests. For example,  the Elderflower Fields Festival, held over four days in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex, has wildlife and environmental projects, theatre, dance and science camps, as well as the more usual sports activities including a climbing wall. You can even relax in the hot tubs before the Sunday picnic.
 

3)    Entertaining – The food is an event in itself 

At most festivals, the food has a vibrant street-food feel; Latitude even had an impressive pop-up restaurant. The quality’s good and the range is huge – from gourmet burgers and organic pizza to Mexican and Vietnamese for the more adventurous. Festival organisers recognise that eating is an important part of the overall experience. It’s another opportunity for people to have fun and socialise, as well as to experiment with more exotic foods.  
 

4)    Experience – It’s about the way you make people feel.

Most fans will tell you that festivals are not just about the music, the facilities or the events. For them, it’s the overall experience that counts. Festivals appeal to all the senses; they have an emotional quality and a distinctive, yet intangible, vibe.

In fact, in the AIF’s 2014 audience survey, 58% said that the single most important factor was “the general atmosphere, overall vibe and character of the event.” Only 8.3% said the “headline acts” (and 21.5% said “the music generally”) were the most important factor. If your tourism business is focusing on the functional excellence but not creating an engaging experience, you may risk losing your customers.

Between 2010 and 2014, independent festivals contributed around £1billion to the UK economy. To me, the attraction is clear. They bend over backwards to appeal to everyone in the family, providing a fun, cool but safe holiday atmosphere.  

The crowds at Latitude enjoyed everything from lake swimming to tranquillity zones. There was even the opportunity for ambitious teenagers to gain UCAS points by completing a Trinity Arts Award. Are there any other tourism attractions or holiday venues that offer such choice?

Festival organisers focus on providing a complete experience – the music, the facilities, the staff, the food, the events. It’s not just the core product itself (the music) that attracts people - but how the festival experience makes them feel. For many, this is an expression of their own identity – if other tourism businesses could create that level of personal buy-in, they might be on to something.

What's your experience of festivals? Do you think other tourism businesses should try to emulate the best of them? Please post your comments below - it would be good to hear from you.

Judy Randon is Regional Director of Shopper Anonymous Norfolk & Suffolk. She is passionate about excellent customer service and will have a stand at the upcoming 2015 B2B exhibition, come and visit us! 

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