They may come for the love of your location or trust in your brand, but for sure many are opting for your destination to experience an event or a festival. We’re always trying to think of ways you can attract more bums in beds, more visitors to enjoy your products – the rising fear of missing out on whatever party is happening even in other parts of the world, is playing right into your pockets. It’s worth taking a closer look at the events in your destination that are luring travellers from all over, to see how to manipulate these opportunities to your advantage.
Events are good for all destinations
How are they good for you? Because they happen all the time, right throughout the year, in some cases depending on seasons like harvest or rugby time, religious or cultural celebration; in other cases it’s because someone decided to host an event that happens in low tourism season precisely to draw more out-of-season business. Cherry blossom trees might be blooming, so let’s do a festival around that! Why not. So time is no deterrent in this case, but rather advantageous to tourism.Events are developed around a special interest, hobby, something to learn and share, or simply a fabulous excuse for a party. Generally, events and festivals are a celebration of life, a draw card for the culturally curious, a medium for renewal and spiritual upliftment, that little boost we all need to transform our jaded selves into children of the planet and of the global community. So we dip into that pool of emotion, find the interest and add that value to our travel product. The desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves might not be the outward reason many travel the world to attend festivals, but I believe it runs beneath as a powerful motivation. It sounds niche and within the character of each event, yes, it will appeal to a specific interest group; but as far as demographics are concerned, your market here spans across ages, nationalities, and traveller types.
Identify the event, its appeal and whose attention it’s likely to attract, and you’ve got something super valuable to add to your existing offering.
For some travellers, the event will be the entire reason for visiting your destination. In that case, use the event as a source of inspiration, tie your brand to it in a way that suggests you’d make it easier for your client to have their experience.
Provide information, logistical support, even score them some freebies or a discount to sweeten the deal; and then supplement the experience with additional options (up-sell them, if you like) that shows the client a different perspective on what they already expect.
In other cases, travellers will choose your destination for other reasons but if you’ve identified a potential match, then adding the option of an event or local festival is a great way to dress up your offering and make it even more attractive than your competitor.
Another way your destination benefits (and your traveller) is when you collaborate with local tourism partners within the community – ultimately, to market your destination jointly and provide holistic solutions for the traveller. It’s all in the communication at the end of the day (and of course, how you dress it up), but the traveller will appreciate that you have their back and will trust you for knowing your destination well.
1 Destination can wear many hats
Some destinations are better at this than others, but you’ll find that most host more than one event or festival within a year. Imagine if you’re based in a flourishing agricultural location, there could likely be food festivals in different seasons focusing on different produce. A strawberry festival here, a cheese festival there, with some trendy slow food events scattered in between. Take Thailand as a perfect example: the entire country is already a prominent food destination. Well, Bangkok hosts the World Gourmet Festival Asia but you won’t lose out if you’re based in Phuket because there’s the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, a vegetarian food fest held in October. It’s a bit gruesome for a food event, but it’ll definitely teach your visitors something about the locals, their beliefs and lifestyle. You could incorporate the Wonderfruit eco-friendly ast, music and crafts festival into your offering if you’re based in or near Pattaya to add some interest.
Other events include the mesmerising spectacle that is Loy Krathong in November is the thing of South East Asian fantasies with a sea of lanterns floating in air and on water. In April, visitors can participate in Songkran festivities, get themselves doused in flour and water – that’s anywhere in Thailand, but Chiang Mai takes first prize for the way locals celebrate there. It’s what Thai people do at arguably the hottest time of the year, a really nice thing for your guests to feel part of.
Festivals are a great way to teach the world (and even the locals) about the different sides to a destination.
The image that many within the global community have had of South Africa is that of a wildlife paradise and a tumultuous political history – that’s both accurate but of course, like anywhere, there’s far more to the country than that.
Events are planned around the less attractive winter season, playing to the strengths of the various regions.
Visitors could enjoy the Hermanus Whale Festival down South, then head up along the West Coast for Wildflower season. Following that, there’s the Rocking the Daisies music festival in the same area that takes place over 4 days in October.
Not just about the Big 5 then! Equally, other destinations, including yours, can benefit from events like these to showcase the lesser known attractions.
There’s an event in every destination
Events and festivals cover interests as broad as sport, religion, culture, film, music, fashion, food, nature and wildlife. According to the Pollstar 2018 Global Festival and Events Calendar, there’s been a 15% increase in international events since the 2017 issue, with a record number of 2,325 confirmed festival events listed this year across 70 countries. The sales opportunities for travel brands inherent in those statistics fully justify the time investment it would require to examine the events in your destination. It will cost you a bit of research to understand what millennials are interested in, compared to what piques the silver haired traveller’s curiosity – for that purpose, you’d have to ask questions, monitor purchasing behaviour and listen closely.
Engaging your prospective audience where they seek travel inspiration and where events and festivals are marketed, means having a proactive social media presence.
Follow the social chatter, engage with it, monitor the trends, what gets shared and liked among the travel community; then incorporate the popular options into your existing products as special offers or value adds.
Poll your audience, send out surveys, to gauge what’s hot and what’s not. Your locally-based would also have some ideas to contribute about the cool, funky, quirky and alternative events creating a buzz in the community.
Travellers are not just interested in the mainstream events – there are some weird and wonderful tastes to cater to.. of course as long as you’re comfortable aligning your brand with them. There are some good examples of travel suppliers collaborating with events organisers and becoming the preferred suppliers of accommodation or transport, etc. for that event. Mantra Hotels, for example, in their collaboration with the Noosa International Film Festival, off a 10% discount to festival visitors. Finally, punt the events happening in your destination on your own social media platforms, even if it is just to share useful information. At the end of the day, it all adds up to a holistic way of destination marketing.
The lure of sport and religion
For many, there’s little difference between sports and religious pilgrimages with respect to the passion and fervour both have the power to elicit. If yours is a good destination for winter and summer sports, the devout will migrate naturally, both to observe and participate – in that sense, the very season can become an event.
There are plenty of tournaments and international competitions on the sports calendar to attract passionate fans to follow their teams abroad. Similarly with religious events. In fact, the same holiday can be celebrated differently in different destinations – that produces a curiosity fused with a cultural fascination in how the other half lives. I know people who long to experience religious festivals in India despite the fact that they don’t practice the same religions. The interest is in local living, the pageantry and solemnity, and that is why you find people replicating the Holi Moo Festival where they live, for fun. Experiencing the real thing is an amazing opportunity to learn, grow and share the education back home.
Lure of the arts
For the cultured palate, the plethora of film, fashion and music events is always guaranteed a loyal following and serious support. A lot of it is driven by pop culture and Instagram #FOMO. It’s not just groupies and hardcore hipsters who follow their favourite band or brand; regular ‘mainstream’ travellers needing an escape want to immerse themselves in these media for the entertainment and relaxation value. You can tap into that by promoting the event in your destination, using the trendy hashtags, and making your own brand look pretty lit!
Far from pop, jazz festivals also attract a regular following, as well as classical music lovers, both of whom one might class as a more discerning traveller. The Cartagena International Music Festival offers classical music and master classes, not the first thing most folks would think about doing in Colombia. It’s that quirky spin on a traditional offering that will give your experience the edge over your competitors, if you’re clever about it.
The Zimbabwe Festival in Harare might not be hitting international headlines but those who know it, believe in it and if that’s where you’re located, it’s an opportunity to promote your destination too.
What do you know about Manga? If you’re old enough to think it’s a pair of long shorts, think again. The Kyoto International Manga and Anime Fair draws thousands of fans and plenty of curiosity. You don’t have to get it, feel it or even like it to market with it. Support the event, capitalise on it and instill trust in your brand for knowing the destination well.
Nature and food – the lure of local living
Based in Ottawa, you know your city offers good choices for live music and craft alcoholic beverages – now there’s an entire festival with cooking demonstrations and eating contests, music and wine bars, at its PoutineFest in mid-May. It showcases the culture of the city inhabitants as well as invites visitors to participate in the local lifestyle. Travellers visiting locations of natural beauty and wildlife might not always know to plan their stay at an opportune time of year to, for instance, witness baby turtle hatching.
That’s where your expertise comes in and you provide the necessary information on events of natural significance and relevance to your clients. Again, a special offer comes in handy when you’re trying to promote your brand in tandem with an event like that, especially if you can further value by adding some more activities like a guided tour or a talk by a marine expert. Create that exclusive sense that you’re offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for your guest to be part of something special and rare.
Whether your traveller prefers to observe, spectate or immerse and share, there are a couple of festivals hosted in your destination to get them in celebratory mode. They’re a lot more varied and closer to your location than you might think. Tap into that potential and add some well-placed promotional content to your marketing mix. Keep in mind the repeat travellers that will return to your festival event each year and bring their friends along – there are opportunities for you there..