How do you keep the economy of a tourism focused area alive in the off-season? You create a reason for people to come. According to a recent Wesgro analysis of Wine Tourism in the Western Cape, 81% of wine farms, tour operators and other wine tourism role players agree that creating an event during slow times, was the way to go. We are currently revisiting our local wine event calendar and overall, we didn’t have the same overwhelming agreement on the success of such events. Why would that be?
I think we are in an interesting phase when it comes to events and festivals. Covid probably expedited this, but it is nothing new. I believe festivals and events have a lifespan. I’ve been involved with them in some way or another for long enough to know that often the initiative starts small and intimate, it grows and becomes very successful for a few years before it starts to dwindle and then eventually doesn’t make sense anymore. For a festival or event to stay successful, you have to regularly revisit the format or produce something completely new. As obvious as this sounds, it is actually not that easy.
This is why:
- The off-season stays the off-season. You can rethink your event or offering, but there is a reason why you have the off-season at a certain time of year. The Cape Winelands off-season is during our winter or the Northern hemisphere summer, when our international guests choose to spend the time at home or travel in summery areas close by. You always have to keep weather challenges in mind and this will determine the type of offering or event.
- Your offering, allure, point of difference and reasons for celebration, usually also stay what they are. In the Franschhoek Valley, we are lucky to have a very broad offering that goes from wine to food, to art and outdoor activities, to name but a few, but something like our French heritage is what it is. To suddenly have an African-style market or an Italian feast because they are trendy, will just not ring true.
- The more things change, the more they stay the same. Consumer trends are always changing and economic conditions might influence spending patterns, but consumers expect originality, fair pricing and quality. Answering to these expectations in innovative ways demands some creative effort and clever thinking from those organising the event.
- Good leadership is a no brainer. Let the creatives come up with out-of-the-box ideas. Let those who are more practically inclined, ensure the ideas are workable. You usually have all the skills you need in your community, they just have to be orchestrated. This is a tough job that takes someone without a personal agenda, one with exceptional insight into a multitude of areas as well as being good with people and having great organising skills. It’s tough to afford such a person, but you need someone to take the reins and do so efficiently.
- Audience insight is essential. Whether you are hosting small exclusive events or large festivals, you need to know who you are catering for and what they expect. You have to assure the right infrastructure and offering for your audience if you want to have any hope of a reputable event.
- Identify the value of your event. Ideally you can balance short term sales with brand awareness in the long run. You want to ensure some income at a slow time of the year and generate enough income during the event to cover costs and make a profit. You also want to create an interest that is sustainable for longer than the event. Experience tourism has brand building at heart. For community events such as the Franschhoek Bastille Festival, for instance, the value lies in creating brand loyalty for your own wine, restaurant or guest house, but also in exposure for the brand Franschhoek. Without a positive association with the overarching brand, smaller, individual brands will eventually suffer.
- Cooperation is crucial. You can’t have a festival with wine alone, people have to eat. And if you are only somewhat off the beaten track, they also would like to stay over. If not everyone in the family loves wine, it helps if you can offer alternative entertainment – shopping, galleries, and spas. This is why having an event is to the benefit of the whole community. It is, however, important that everyone works together and contribute to the overall success, rather than focusing only on their own profit. To have a sustainable business model that ensures brand awareness in the long run, there must be cooperation.
No community festival can survive if one or two sectors have to take sole responsibility. Tourism establishments are eager to create energy, but not everyone has the means. Covid gets the blame for many things, but of course it was a terrible time for tourism and even though things are back on track, it is not easy to make up for two years’ worth of lost income. Perhaps initially, supporting initiatives are not only about contributing money but also about time and skills. Perhaps contributing restaurant meals or accommodation for media to support publicity for the event, helping to put up the tent, hanging the lights or finding sponsorships are also ways to contribute.
People enjoy festivals, markets and reasons to socialise and enjoy life. I think there will always be support for events, especially out of season when there are fewer options to choose from. To make it worthwhile for those hosting the event, however, takes a bit more than erecting a tent and ordering extra glasses. It might be challenging, but it is important and it is possible.