Events are significant in today's society. They have links to religion, to culture, to sport, to community, to commerce, and to political, policy and microeconomic and macroeconomic influence or objectives. Events are becoming ever more important as they are seen to reap a great many of the elements that a society (served by a government) requires for its development. As society has moved from a manufacturing to an experience economy over the last fifty years, the role of events has become an important element of the experience economy. At the same time, with the arrival of the experience economy and the decline of manufacturing in many places, political leaders have become champions of sporting and cultural events in their nation, city or community. It seems that countries all want mega sporting events such as the Olympics Games or FIFA World Cup or cultural events such as food and wine festivals as a means to attract tourists to a region.
Events are often stated in terms relating to improvement of the quality of life for the populace; or of offering economic and social benefits; or of creating new business networks and opportunities; or profile raising, and in supporting other civic needs Events are significant in today's society but will they be significant in the future? Are we at a tipping point of over supply which will see a rapid decline in the events in a future society triggered by the present global financial crisis and national debt? Who will be the future event tourist given the emergence of the rising middle classes of China and the impact of demographic change in a Western society? How will social media and technology shape the consumption of live events in the future? These are interesting questions and the purpose of this think piece is to consider these questions of what might happen, how it will occur and what change could occur as a result?
The significance of events relates to the importance of the experience economy in the tourist consumption. Events have links to religion, to culture, to sport, to community, to commerce, and to political, policy and microeconomic and macroeconomic influence or objectives. If the future is an experience economy governments will continue champion and promote events and put them at the centre of their tourism polices.
Festival and events have become a normal route to gaining credibility, status and improved trade, a process of identity building. Festivals and events have been recorded as actions by host cities and other destinations to display their entrepreneurial virtues and in narrating or engineering place image and place brand.
Festivalisation has two meanings. The first is indicative of a sector that has grown rapidly and which there may be oversupply and the second is where the growth of events indicates an innate socialisation effect and festivals are routed in the real life of people. In each case there is indication that events and festivals may become a ‘norm' and less representative of what makes an event unique (despite this being a defining factor of events and festivals in the literature). Clearly in a competitive market events and festivals, with an increased level of minimum standards and within a competitive environment there is more at risk for organisers. Here lies their dilemma. Accentuate the new and risk market rejection, compete with all others with costly improvement - and risk bankruptcy. Tie this with the fear of taking legal risk, as the litigious nature of society progresses, and it becomes clear the potential for similarity in the design and performance of events grows. Anyway, many countries sovereign debt to GDP ratio is forecasted to escalate rapidly so might be able to afford events in the future.
Growing affluence of the world's populations has had profound impact on out-of-home expenditure. The tourist of the future is much more cultured, is well travelled, is searching for new experiences and wants to experience local culture. Food is a significant part of a tourist's experience of the destination, driven by the growing trend of authenticity, the rise of the experience economy and the need for a high quality experience. Food is one of the primary drivers of destinations' choice in countries such as France and Italy and increasingly important in destinations such as Scotland, China and New Zealand. It is as if culture has moved out of the museum and is a living experience with food and wine at the centre.
With the growth of social networking and the democratization of experience that prevails, as consequence of this means that the increase in festival and event goers from China will be palpable. The consumption of events will be a socially significant attribute of the lifestyle enjoyed by the creative class in this country. Moreover, the festival goer from China or India will be savvy and aware when they come to destinations like New Zealand or Canada. The experience will be disseminated in real time, with an awareness drawn from the network of word-of-mouth reports available and the supported narratives in the blogosphere.
This blurred world of virtual reality and real experiences is a major threat to the future of events. Will stadiums be empty because the experience is better in your living room, driven by the insperience econ omy and demography trends? High-definition television (or HDTV) and its digital format is turning watching TV into a high quality real experience, surpassing the stadium event itself. With the development of digiboxes in which the viewer can rewind, replay, focus on specific angles, skip adverts, watch multiple channels simultaneously and when watching events such as rugby can decide which camera to view the matches.
What is the future? There are so many other drivers, wild cards and projections that haven't being mentioned. These include, at a macro level as world tourism moves eastwards as the merging middle classes of India and China acquire wealth the world distribution of events follows this pattern. As population age, what is the correlation between wealth and demography? How does this change the relationship between the variables of wealth and time, as today's baby boomers have both and as a consequence drivers the rise of volunteerism in society. Then there is climate change. The further desertification of the Mediterranean significantly changes outdoor events in popular tourism destinations in Spain and Italy. California, one of the world's most famous food and wine destination will by 2050 be radically different due to lack of fresh water which impacts on the agricultural production. Then there is oil. Imagine a world without it or a world in which it is so expensive that only the upper classes of society could afford intercontinental travel. The possibilities are endless. But this is one of the purposes of this think piece.
The basis of this article is an extended paper co-authored with Martin Robertson and Karen Smith which has being submitted for publication in Page, S & Connell, J (2011) Handbook of Events, Routledge, Oxford.
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