Festivals and events come in all different shapes and sizes, from the humble local food and drink market to global mega-events such as the Olympics or Euro 2016. There are also the inbetweeners: the “hallmark” events, usually in the same place, at the same time, with the same theme and the same size. Think the tennis at Wimbledon or the long weekend of music and mayhem at Glastonbury.
All these events have rather differing social, economic, and ecological impacts. Events of days gone by often saw quite humble levels of commercial consumption, activity, and sociological importance. You did, however, get landmark occasions – such as the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in London – which were used to show off a nation’s tech advancements and played a key role in connecting global societies before the advent of international communications and accessible travel. Now, though, this thirst for economic importance and a longer-term legacy has become a “must-have” for most festival events, from the smallest to the biggest.
Festivals are a useful part of regional and national policy for governments wishing to develop urban and rural economies. Recent reports by VisitBritain claim that in 2012, music tourism contributed a whopping PS2.2 billion to the UK economy, attracting over 6.5m music tourists.
Take Glastonbury as a key example. From short to medium-term employment opportunities right through to direct economic spending, the festival annually contributes over PS100m to the UK economy. It is no surprise that our national tourism organization wishes to grow music tourism over the coming years and encourage 40m overseas visitors by 2020.
Food for thought
But let’s not get too wrapped up with the direct and indirect economic and financial benefits here. Yes, festivals inject money into local economies, but they also serve to bring together communities, enhance skills and local confidence, and inspire generations.
They also help to regenerate spaces and places in need of a fix-up, as illustrated by the Glastonbury festival management themselves. They have used their revenues to help develop and conserve local facilities and introduce new social spaces, such as the Pilton’s Working Men’s Club, right through the renovation of medieval church bells. The ripple effect reaches the livelihoods of local communities right through to the enterprising B&B owners benefiting from those who opt for a less treacherous night’s sleep.
A new diversity. Michigan Municipal League/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
But it is not just the existing communities and passive entrepreneurs that make a fine dime. What we have seen since the turn of the century is the extraordinary rise of cultural food movements and a new age of entrepreneurialism centered around the use of events. Take the dramatic growth of the artisan food and drink scene across the UK and Europe. We have to look around to see how important artisan markets, regional and local food and drink fairs, online gastronomy blogs, and a burgeoning “street food” scene have been across towns and cities.
Cambridge gets in on the act with the EAT Cambridge festival and FoodPark initiatives by local foodie blogger Heidi Sladen. But if you visit any well-developed hallmark event such as Glastonbury, everyone from technology entrepreneurs to food/drink entrepreneurs has been quick to sniff out the opportunity.