Events, festivals, gatherings, giant parties that include anyone and everyone, have become a thing. Search the Internet for what’s happening in this place and that, and you’ll unearth calendars of all sorts marketing events covering such a wide range of interests and themes, that there truly is something for everyone. And it’s becoming reason enough for us to plan an entire trip around or certainly a major value add for many destinations. Look around your destination: is there something you were planning to attend with your friends? Chances are travellers are interested, curious and keen to join in.

What’s in an event

Consider this finding by Pollstar as they published their 2018 Global Festival & Events Calendar: they claim an increase in events of more than 15% since their 2017 issue.

..a record 2,325 confirmed festival events listed this year, encompassing over 70 countries worldwide


That’s a lot of potential for us to tap! In essence, it boils down to having the opportunity to let some hair down, lose some inhibitions, and transform the self from routine slave into a freer, lighter spirit, more connected with both people and place, and experientially richer. Exactly the type of holiday modern travellers have been actively seeking out lately; except this time, there are identifiable occasions and events to base those experiences on.

They’ll be searching for special interest travel focused on hobby, sport, culture, religion, art, film, music, fashion, food and nature. Then there are the cultural phenomena made trendy by pop culture; there are seasonal events like spring and harvest festivals, festivals to celebrate winter and summer; annual events around religious or national holidays; and don’t discount the quirky, alternative trends that used to live on society’s edges but draw a specific and loyal following.

Some events incorporate a celebration of the traditional and an introduction of something new and innovative. There’s an anime/manga art festival in Tokyo that I imagine would have such universal appeal, given its huge following among millennials looking for somewhere cool to spend their breaks. This type of travel invites escapism mixed in with local living and opportunities to raise the spirits, to learn and share, experience a joie de vivre, get dirty in some cases, and have a party! It’s about feeling part of something bigger.

Preaching to the choir

You’re dealing with the fan, the spectator and the participant, the spiritualist, the sharer, the discerning and the returning traveller. They span a range of demographics of all ages and budgets – it requires a bit of prodding and suggesting to extract the level of interest, how much they know and don’t know. My mother once visited Israel over Easter some years ago, travelling with a Christian friend’s church group – they visited many holy sites. She was fascinated by the history but also wanted to see how the locals observe the festival. The purely religious theme was probably not a perfect fit for her because she had no opportunity for any local interaction, which frustrated her. Addressing your client’s need or preference is exactly about identifying the level of involvement they want.

Some of them, especially the discerning traveller, will know a great deal about the event – possibly more than you do – and you can learn from them: what not to do, how to approach the event as core or supplementary component of an itinerary, and how to present it most attractively to others with the same interest. The rest of them will either have a slight idea about what’s happening but will need you to fill in the blanks with information and logistical advice; or they won’t have a clue but you’ll know from profiling them that if they’re interested in nature and wildlife, a seasonal event like a wildebeest migration in your destination would knock their socks off. Events like those can generate enough interest with the emotional power to motivate travel to a particular destination, even one previously not considered.

The fact that events or festivals, sport and art, music and culture speak to personal interests and passions, makes it an emotional choice for travel.

You promise the excitement, the dignity, the excellence, the sense of community, the fun, precisely to tap into that emotion. You also ensure that you provide sufficient details to enable well-informed decisions, so that your traveller need not waste their time looking for more info elsewhere. Own the experience or act like you know it. If you show your expertise, you’ll be trusted to know your destination. An event is an all-inclusive party: easy to capitalise on and to score an invitation for your client.

Coining it with events

With such a broad market to sell to, you’re targeting multiple age groups, millennials as much as Baby Boomers, silver travellers, families, couples, solo travellers, the works! Have your content speak to them with personalised messaging as you normally would and throw in the bait of a tasty event or festival to sweeten the deal.

Events are perennial – they happen in all sorts of weather conditions and all over the world, in urban and rural areas, on beaches and mountains, in forests and fields..

You can gain a lot of mileage from collaborating with local travel companies and organisations to create in-destination extensions onto an event. 

If nothing else, the event becomes a good introduction to or advertisement for your destination.

Use it as the main draw card and build supplementary products around it to flesh out your offering, and add value.

It’s a nod to niche tourism in a way with travel products required for specific interests and so packages need to be personalised and tailored to a smaller pool of travellers. But it is targeting a more discerning clientele; so it’s well worth your time to follow the chatter on social media regarding trendy events in your destination to help you identify where you can incorporate events into your offerings. You could also benefit from conducting surveys or polls on your social media platforms, via email marketing or on your website in order to learn which events in your destination have the most pulling power among your travelling audience.

Experiencing Latino events

In the coming months we have some awesome festivals and events happening that make me wish I could be in all places at once. Alas, one must choose. But that means you are spoilt for choice of marketable events. For those keen on observing the religious and the cultural, we love El Dia de los Muertos held annually in Mexico for its parades, costumes and intrigue. Those who feel inclined could also dress up and participate in the colourful spectacle. Elsewhere in Latin America, there’s the fun and protracted celebration of Dieciocho in Chile – Independence Day becomes virtually a week of reckless dancing, eating and drinking. The Mardi Gras in Brazil (not just in Rio de Janeiro, mind you – try Salvador do Bahia or even Sao Paulo for a different flavour to your carnival experience. Bolivia hosts its own Carnival de Oruro each February, Guatemala comes to the party with their special take on Cinco de Mayo festivities, and in June Cusco celebrates Inti Raymi.

For foodies, there’s the mouth-watering Salon de Chocolat in mid-June in Quito, promising tastings and cooking with chocolate.

Semana Mesa in Sao Paulo takes place in October, as does Mistura in Lima.

With food and beverage events often being seasonal, there’s the potential to string a veritable food tour together as you migrate your client from one location and festival to another within proximate areas within a destination. Incorporate some local living experiences for some authenticity, to reinforce that sense of being part of something real. Further North in the Caribbean, you can mark the Blue Food festival in Tobago on your calendar for some – yes! – actual blue food, rum, music and limbo dancing. It’s a quirky, different, sultry and fun option.

Eventful Asia

Thailand alone hosts so many events of a cultural, religious or culinary nature, we’re only scratching the surface to mention the water festival of Songkran that happens in April each year and the obligatory Full Moon parties that have been entertaining visitors for ages. Consider modern festivals as viable alternative draw cards, like the World Gourmet Festival Asia in Bangkok or Summit in Singapore. Hong Kong hosts a Dumpling Festival on the 5th day of the 5th Chinese Lunar month (let me know when you’ve figured out when that is), with traditional food and wine bars to round off the dragon boat races feast for the eyes. When they’re done stuffing their gums ‘n tums, your travellers might be interested in some sporting events like Formula 1 Grand Prix in Singapore or perhaps some music like the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan.

The Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia in July sounds pretty awesome, for music and location. We end off out tour with a bit of sustainable arts and crafts, more music and even magic shows at the eco-friendly festival of Wonderfruit in Pattaya, Thailand.

Events out of Africa

When South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2010 and the world descended on its shores, many of those footie-crazy visitors had no idea what to expect. Would there be zebra roaming the streets? An elephant spouting water from its trunk instead of a shower? For some it was their first experience of Africa with an earthy mixture of 1st and 3rd world themes running throughout the destination and the event. Lots of local interaction, food and cultural experiences marketed to the hilt by local tourism organisations. It was a true representation of the currency of value-adds. Elsewhere in South Africa, the Hermanus Whale Festival has become quite a celebrated event, even by international standards, with the Southern Right whale putting on a righteous display every September/October.

Neighouring Malawi hosts its now famous Lake of Stars Arts Festival, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.

What better way to explore the natural beauty of Lake Malawi than with a delicious offering of African musical talent!

Not to be outdone, Zimbabwe holds its own on the cultural events stage, but my new favourite is Art of Africa: it’s an art safari where you get to paint in the proximity of elephant in their natural habitat and learn about conservation at Victoria Falls. Further North in Morocco, there’s the Beyond Sahara cultural festival; but look, big continent, countless events to capitalise on. Take another look at your destinations and pay close attention to the beat of the drum.

Living it up Oceania style

It’s appropriate to end up downunder with a New Year’s Eve party to end all parties in Sydney, don’t you think? Fireworks, city-wide festivities and all manner of indulgences sound like something anyone would want to be part of at least once in their lives.

From there, events pop up around every kangaroo turn: Melbourne has its Food and Wine Festival in March and The Melbourne Festival celebrating culture in October; there’s the Australian Open Tennis Grandslam; Byron Bay Bluesfest is a 5-day music event in March/April; Noosa International Film Festival hosts screenings, talks and workshops for 4 days in October; there’s Kakadu Bird Week also in October, with a photography competition and cruises on Yellow Water Billabong; this year saw the first Women’s Professional Golf Tournament held in the South Pacific; and for a quirky end to the Oceania events summary, there’s the Wildfoods festival in Hokitika, New Zealand in mid-March.

If there’s a party, a celebration of life – human, animal or plant – of culture and lifestyle, of what we do for fun, in worship or to nourish ourselves, there will be an event or a festival to mark its significance. And now, there is sufficient interest to experience these celebrations as an integral part of tourism. For you it means just another valuable way to build your travel products and offer that something more toy our clients that keep them bringing back their business to you.

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