Comment: Why festivals matter

James McVeigh, head of marketing and innovation at Festivals Edinburgh, says festivals must continually adapt to new trends

Festivals have become a major growth market across different continents and a major component of this market is cultural festivals that span different or multiple disciplines, celebrate local customs and history, or mark special occasions and events.

Since their founding in 1947, the Edinburgh Festivals have grown to a point where they now attract audiences of 4.7 million to the city, putting them on a par with the FIFA World Cup and second only to the Olympic Games.

Central to the Festivals’ growth and continuing relevance has been constant innovation and re-invention, as seen in the first ‘thrust’ stage or the first science festival or indeed the world’s first commercially available mobile phone app.

Such innovation is never undertaken in isolation however, but has an eye on current and future trends which today includes:

• Experiential: the desire for people to have unique ‘live’ experiences across all facets of their lives

• Authentic: the quest for people to encounter what is ‘real’ and ‘rooted’ as opposed to the bland and parachuted

• Insightful: the search for meaning in an increasingly anxious world where facts are questioned and news is faked

Festivals by their very nature are interruptions in our everyday lives.

They play a unique role in the tourism landscape in that they allow destinations to constantly re-invent, re-position and re-animate themselves, thus providing an enhanced impetus for repeat visits.

All festivals play a role in attracting visitors but it is those festivals that can respond to emerging trends that will best position destinations for the current desires of Generation X and future Millennial demands.

• James McVeigh will be speaking about the importance of culture, festivals and tourism during the Future Global Opportunities for UK Tourism conference on June 28, organised by Cheeky Monkey. The conference is part of the International Business Festival in Liverpool.

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