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How to Make Your Festival Group-Friendly

Festivals showcase your destination at its best. Are you doing all you can to make the most of them?

Travel groups love visiting festivals and events throughout the country, where they can find entertainment, great food, shopping and abundant local flair, often for an attractive price. Many of the nation’s top events attract dozens or even hundreds of tour groups.

If you want to help boost event attendance and hotel occupancy during your city’s signature festivals, consider employing some of these four tips to attract groups.

1. Build group-exclusive opportunities.

Sometimes group travel planners can be intimidated by large-scale events, especially if the organizers haven’t optimized the event for group experiences. So instead of asking travel planners to bring their groups to town only to get lost in a sea of other attendees, work with the festival organizers and other local partners to create group-exclusive opportunities and amenities. This can range from reserved grandstand seating for groups to full-scale private functions with catering, music, entertainment and VIP access to elements of the festival not open to the public. Some festivals even allow groups to march in their parades.

2. Host a FAM.

One of the best ways to boost group business for next year’s festival is to host some group leaders and other influencers at this year’s edition of the event. Tour operators and group leaders will have a much easier time selling your event if they have attended and enjoyed it themselves. Plus, if you have created some inviting opportunities exclusively for groups, a FAM tour allows you to show off these special touches or even test your concepts with a smaller group before launching them to the wider group market. Ask your FAM participants to review the event and the group-exclusive experiences to help you continue to improve the product for future years.

3. Launch a campaign.

If you’re having a tough time attracting groups to your festivals and events, it could be because they just don’t know about them. And while you might have some success in pitching these events during one-on-one trade-show appointments or in blast emails, you’ll have a better chance of spreading awareness with a strategic media campaign. There are all sorts of ways to do this: send press releases to the magazines and websites that are read by your target market; organize a social-media campaign around the event, complete with photos and hashtags; or support the event with some focused advertising in print or online. Leverage the resources of your public relations and marketing departments, as well as the festival organizer’s, to get the word out.

4. Take advantage of association memberships.

If your destination is a member of tourism associations such as the American Bus Association (ABA) or the Southeast Tourism Society (STS), you may have some resources at your disposal to help bring visibility to your events. Both ABA and STS publish highly respected lists of top festivals and events, so consider nominating your local events to be considered among those select few. You might also consider asking your state tourism association to help you publicize the event to its list of travel buyers, journalists and other influencers, which might be more robust than yours.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.

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