The value of events: a personal history

We’re a little more than a week away from Knysna’s annual Oyster Festival (1-10 July, 2016), and we’re in the middle of the quiet midwinter season – so it’s as good a time as any to think about the long-term impact of events on destinations.

Martin-Hatchuel-2012-WEBI’ve experienced the Knysna Oyster Festival from the inside out almost from the start.

I became involved in tourism when I moved to Knysna in December, 1983 (the same year in which the Festival was founded), and I volunteered for the organising committee – and was elected chair – in 1987. Which, in those days, basically meant that I was its full-time, unpaid, strictly voluntary coordinator.

I wonder if any of us ever fully realised the impact it would have on the town?

Why a festival?

Charles van Tonder, a long-time resident of Knysna, recalled that “The late Dick Ginsberg – who owned Richard’s Men’s Outfitters – came up with the idea for a festival in the early 80s to attract visitors in what was then one of the quietest times of the year.”

This remains the most important reason for having the Festival (although somehow we still haven’t fully beaten the demons of seasonality), and Charles said that his businesses – the restaurants 34 South, Tapas & Oysters, The Drydock Food Co., and Sirocco,and The Project lounge and cocktail bar – rely heavily on the turnover it creates.

“Because of the Festival, July is the only one of the five winter months (May – September) when we break even.

“Our figures for the two weekends of the Festival are on a par with our turnover at Christmas-time.”

Mr. Ginsberg and Rose Smith, the manager of the then Knysna Publicity Association (now Knysna & Partners), put the first Festival together in ’83. If memory serves, it was called the Knysna Winter Festival when it started – the oysters came later – and it featured rugby, golf, squash and bowls, a marathon, and various social events. (The South African Navy attended for the first time in ’84 – and these days you couldn’t imagine an Oyster Festival without them.)

“By the late 1980s, the event had grown to the point where it offered real value to corporate sponsors, and this gave it a permanence and therefore a future,” said Charles. “So it was a perfect fit when Pick n Pay became the naming sponsor in 2004 – because both Pick n Pay and the Festival have always focussed on the family and on healthy lifestyles.”

Best practice

In his now legendary book, Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers, Seth Godin wrote that, “The days of high demand and limited supply are over… it’s a new game now. A game where the limited supply is attention.”

“Getting attention is the whole point of sponsoring an event like the Oyster Festival,” said Charles.

In his presentation to the 2013 annual European conference of the International Festival and Events Association, William Fenton pointed out that “Partnership is the new paradigm.”

Mr. Fenton was the editor of The World Sponsorship Monitor and co-author of The Sponsorship Handbook.

In ‘Selling Arts, City & Event sponsorship: Trends, Best Practice and Tips,’ he wrote that, “Advertising generates awareness, public relations informs and influences, and sales promotion stimulates interest and trial.” But the unique thing about sponsorship is that it, “Reaches the parts other media cannot reach.”

This is proven. Quoting a study of the Summer 2011 European Music Festival, Mr. Fenton said that 36% of festival-goers are “more likely to buy a sponsor’s product after experiencing their activation at the festival. “65% say brands improve the festival experience.”

In order to achieve these results, he said, sponsors look for “Institutions which have a great collection/event; a strong brand; authenticity; can describe their audience; event integration and activation platforms; make an effort to understand a sponsors’ business; leverage the pedigree of existing sponsors to attract new partners.”

The proof is in the 32 year-old pudding

I wish we’d had the money in those early days to research the Oyster Festival they way they do today. Be nice to know how far we’ve come.

According to a report compiled by the (professional!) organisers, the 32nd (2015) Knysna Oyster Festival boasted 120 individual events (I expect there’ll be more this year), and attracted 73,500 visitors.

It also:

  • Generated R 112 million’s worth of PR and media value;
  • Raised R 2,5 million for local charities, schools and NPOs;
  • Generated R 124,7 million in total expenditure;
  • Created 3,429 employment opportunities; and
  • Added R 134,7 million to the gross geographical product of the region.

The point here is that this is all the result of the ‘little parties’ we threw in the mid-80s.

If I had my time again, I’d do nothing different. Except maybe ask for a proper economic impact assessment.

And I’m proud of that.

  • View the programme for the 2016 Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival here.

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I’m Martin Hatchuel, a tourism practitioner with more than 30 years of experience in the sector, and I write and publish This Tourism Week as an informed, insightful look at issues affecting tourism in South Africa. (And I’ve been doing it since August, 2002.)

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Martin Hatchuel
Chartered Public Relations Professional

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