Festival City A Case Study of Successful Festivals

April 2009
Profitable Festivals Improve the Community

You've heard of New York City, Kansas City, Park City, even The Emerald City. But have you ever heard of Festival City?

Edmonton, Alberta has trademarked the name Festival City, and with good reason. With over 30 high-profile annual festivals held throughout the year, Edmonton has perfected how to showcase the arts, sports, culture, food and beverage, and business opportunities while maximizing the economic impact on the city. Millions of visitors, and millions of infused dollars later, Edmonton has established itself as the number one Canadian city for festivals and special events. Internationally, communities that are planning a new event or festival look to Edmonton as an example and case study. Festival City has already done the homework.

Edmonton's deep-rooted history of volunteerism is the foundation for every successful event. There are an average of 12,000 volunteers donating 154,000 hours of time, keeping operating wages and salaries almost non-existent. Low operation costs means more profit from your gate receipts. There are coveted volunteer positions for each of the festivals that volunteers clamor for, and many are more than willing to use vacation time to work for free. Fostering the volunteer community has an immeasurable impact on an event in a city with an unemployment rate that hovers at 3.5%.

Partnering with local businesses that may be affected by an event makes it a win-win situation. Hotels, restaurants, bars and specialty shops often invest in advertising of the event in exchange for co-advertising themselves as supporters. Event traffic is directed to those partners, where profits are measured compared to last year's sales, and by tracking how much new business is due to the event itself. Notifying area businesses in advance of an event allows the service industry to prepare for an influx of customers at key times. Gas stations, coffee shops, retailers, cab companies, local attractions-all related business owners need to evaluate inventory levels and staffing to ensure product and service is prompt and uninterrupted. A coffee shop that runs out of coffee or doesn't have enough staff to move customers through queues quickly, is the worst kind of economic impact: lost sales.

Launching your event or festival as an annual occurrence creates an expectation in the marketplace, and an enhanced stream of revenue that businesses can forecast. One-time occasions can create urgency in participation and will drive up sales for that period, but annual events make a greater long-term economic impact. Regularity allows for growth in recognition of the event. Greater recognition means an event can continually cast a wider net of participation or can create positive investment competition for business sponsorship. Regular participation means businesses will incorporate your event into their own individual business planning for the upcoming year. When your event becomes a regularly budgeted item on their agendas it signifies the economic impact has been positive, and that affected businesses will work simultaneously towards continued growth in relation to this event year after year. It creates spin-off business plans for returns on investment, and how to maximize profits.

The most concrete plan to determine how your festival has impacted the local economy is to leave it to the professionals. Marketing firms specializing in researching and surveying can determine what, if any, impact there has been on the economy after an event or festival. Impact ranges from the benefits of exposure, to profits to local businesses to stresses on infrastructure. They can also prepare recommendations to make the event more profitable in future years base on the current economy. Hiring this type of professional is worth the investment, but don't overlook the possibility of a volunteer either. University students, or those new to the field relish the opportunity to use their skills and build their resumes. Being part of a community event or festival makes the opportunity even more attractive-especially at a grass-roots level that establishes credibility for that volunteer in this arena.

Determining economic impact is only one of the aspects of planning an event or festival. The best aspect is how much fun and spirit it will bring to your community.

Sources: Edmonton Economic Development, Travel & Tourism Alberta, Service Canada

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