Music Festival Tourism As a Destination Strategy
The music festival tourism market has grown significantly in the last several years, with the UK and Spain leading in Europe. Approximately 12.6 million tourists attended live music events across the country UK in 2019, and Spain holds more than 1,000 music festivals yearly with an estimated economic impact of 5.6 billion euros.
Covid-related social distancing measures and the limitations on international travel disrupted the sector, with most festivals postponed, cancelled, or reduced significantly in size and format. With the easing of pandemic measures and international travel on the rise again, music festival tourism is already experiencing a renaissance.
For destinations, there are significant benefits to hosting a large, international music festival, however there is also a list of negative consequences arising from this class of tourism. Finding a balance between generating vale for industry and travelers, but also for residents, local administrations, and other stakeholders is an important challenge for destinations considering a festival tourism strategy.
Music festival demographics and economics
Music festivals visitor profiles vary as much as the types of music themselves. Each type of music festival is targeted at a specific visitor segment, from younger generations often in a mass-quantity strategy, to older but higher-income segments that may be interested in a more exclusive format.
From a 2019 analysis conducted in Spain, the average spend for a junior music festival profile is 430€, of which approximately 30% is dedicated to accommodation and 25% to transportation. Consequently, an event like Barcelona’s Primavera Sound music festival attracts up to 220,000 attendees each year and generated an economic impact of 120 million euros in its last pre-pandemic edition in 2019.
Benefits for the destination
Music festivals offer host destinations a number of benefits across multiple parameters. While an economic boost is frequently the first to come to mind, destinations also receive support for their broader image, an increase in promotion, and access to improved socio-cultural conditions:
- Job creation and local economy impact - first, destinations benefit directly from job creation stemming from the organization of events and by receiving a percentage of festival revenue. Indirectly, the arrival of thousands (or in some cases, hundreds of thousands) of visitors provides additional income to accommodation facilities, bars and restaurants, and other services such as car rentals and museums. Important infrastructure and urban development investments are often carried out in order to adapt sites and cities, modernizing in many cases underdeveloped or neglected city areas.
- Seasonality mitigation - this increase in revenue is in many cases either in shoulder travel months our completely outside of high season, as music events are not only undertaken during the summer vacation period but held in spring and autumn. This can help a destination to smooth its arrivals during lower demand periods, maintaining jobs and a more M-shaped revenue curve.
- Brand positioning and promotion – destinations that host large music festivals often benefit from an ancillary bump to their brand positioning and the promotion of the destination both domestically and internationally. The destination can be positively associated with, for example, modernity and lifestyle values associated with some music festivals, which can help position the destination as an attractive spot to visit by younger generations.
- Resident cultural benefits – depending on the proximity of the festival to concentrated population centers, residents may be provided with more entertainment opportunities and can enjoy an authentic experience without the necessity of traveling large distances and paying for accommodation services. They can also experience an increased sense of identity and pride in being the venue for an important event.
Drawbacks for the local community
Music festival tourism can also generate negative consequences and frustration among the local community.
Such large numbers of visitors in relatively compact areas generates traffic congestion, road closures, overcrowding, and stress on local resources such as supermarkets and pharmacies, which can be highly disruptive for neighboring residents.
Social conflict can intensify if the event is not acceptable to a broad stretch of the local population, leading to political conflict, protests, boycotts, etc. Ideally, residents should be included in the decision-making process, either with direct or indirect representation, so that their concerns are addressed, and all actors can benefit from the situation. The aim should be to maximize not only the economic benefit but also the social outputs while minimizing the negative impact on residents.
Additionally, the sustainability impact of thousands of visitors is often substantial. Waste generation, water consumption, public infrastructure overuse, police resources to manage delinquent behavior, and landscape erosion are some of the costs the destination must absorb. Sustainability is a key issue to be considered when organizing this class of event, with an understanding of the need for additional resources like increased sanitation, cleaning services, and security backup.
Music festival tourism is gaining momentum again in parallel with the recovery of international tourism post-pandemic, with 2022 already host to hundreds of regional and international music festivals.
As destinations become more aware of the opportunities associated with this tourism product, local communities must have a say in the decision-making process so that economic benefits are fairly distributed, and the negative impact of such events is mitigated. The balanced needs of the local community must be properly considered in order to minimize the negative aspects of music festival tourism.
Article by Alejandro Gracia, Intern, THR Tourism Industry Advisors.