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Filmfestivals destination tourism and business Part 2

As a response to the several inquiries that I have received, this article provides additional information following my December 15 background essay on the emerging field of film festival tourism. As noted before, film festival tourism is part of the rapidly expanding cultural tourism industry that serves a fairly affluent and knowledgeable audience. Conversely, local or national departments of tourism have realized that attracting cultural film tourists generates additional income for the local and regional economy, an assumption born out by several case studies. These departments are listed among the financial sponsors of foreign and domestic film festivals. Apart from those mentioned in my December article, the following film festivals are co-funded out of the tourism budgets: Cayman Islands IFF; Singapore IFF; Ankara IFF; Istanbul IFF; Tirana Cinema Short FF; Zanzibar IFF, actually branding itself as an "East Africa Cultural Tourism Product"; and, in North America, Edmonton IFF, The Osborne Classic FF, and the Santa Fe FF.

Individuals engaging in cultural travels are willing to pay for a packaged experience, presumably saving time and energy for a more effective consumption of culture during their trips. It is obvious that reaching affluent culture travelers will generate more income than reaching average beach or mountain tourists. The key to effectively accessing these groups is by selling the experience through a highly individuated and personalized approach. This cultural tourism, which is part of what is also known in the trade as “destination” or “event” tourism is facilitated by the growing discretionary income of upscale groups who are willing to pay thousands of dollars for participating in a film festival, attending a literary event, or listening to Wagner's operas in Bayreuth.

The increased interest in film festivals is fueled by exposure to college-based film and communications programs, access to low cost production technologies, rising consumption of visual products through stationary and portable platforms (which, in the US, will reach this year an estimated weekly 40 hours per individual), and the advent of a sensate “here and now” culture. Last but not least, film festivals have become an important part of the cultural landscape surrounding us.

Consumption of culture can be used as a factor differentiating audience groups since it serves as a social status symbol. After all, participating in an established film festival in a well-known or exotic and foreign location provides intangible prestige since it reflects a unique experience that can be ranked higher among peers than driving a BMW Socially speaking, there is more to sharing with friends the talk one had with Nicholas Cage or Shirley MacLaine than discussing the acceleration of the upscale car one owns, though access to both actors and car are equally expensive.

The profile of the U.S. target audience of cultural tourists who could be or are participating in international film festivals is not surprising. They are classified by the Canadian Tourism Commission as “festival tourism enthusiasts,” if they have participated in at least two festivals on a recent trip. In 2000, they comprised about four million adult Americans, of which about forty percent have taken recent trips to Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe and other countries outside North America with 75% having taken such trips over the last two years--with Mexico and Caribbean listed as the top destinations. Forty five percent come from the “35 to 54” age range. Most festival tourism enthusiasts live in adult-only households and come from middle, upper middle and high-income groups with above average educational achievement. About 1.4 million of the four million festival tourism enthusiasts are grouped as "Performing Arts Festival Tourism Enthusiasts," having attended two or more festivals on a recent trip. About one million reported participation in theatre and music festivals respectively, 720 thousand in literary festivals, and 450 thousand in international film festivals. Among the individuals belonging to the “Themed Community Festivals” group 145 thousand identified past participation in an international film festival.

Film Festival Tourism has therefore a solidly mid- and upscale consumer base which is likely to grow in tandem with the establishment of more film festivals, thus a greater ease of access. The Canadian Tourism Commission estimates that the international film festival audience is likely to increase by 40 percent by 2020, an increase far above the national Canadian economic growth rate of 27% for that period. Since there are no indications that the structural characteristics of our societies will change, I suspect that film festival tourism' growth rates will exceed the Canadian estimates. After all, there is a persistent consumption of visual images, an increasing affluence of upscale groups, the packaging of experience, a detachment from the public sphere, a shift towards a leisure life with instant gratifications etc. Further, the niche of film festival tourism has been totally disregarded by the travel industry. This lacuna and the packaging of film festival tourism will be addressed in the next installment.

Read the first part of the article
Claus Mueller, New York Correspondent

Comments (1)

Filmfestivals destination tourism and business Part 3

As the director of the Funchal International Film Festival I must say there are clear benefits to the local economy derived from visitors coming to the venue. The concept of cultural tourism resides essentially on the fusion between the cultural proposals (including arts and entertainment) with the social components (from its historically richest till night life…) in an attractive tourist destination. A film festival that takes place in such a location it’s easier to promote since the necessary marketing is done regularly by the local tourism department as a political authority. In this case, the geographical location of the venue is also an argument for a visit: the island has a good weather, with fine temperatures, general security, direct short flights from Europe, natural beauty, five stars hotels, etc. There is no doubt that if this combination of tourism + film festival is successful, it will influence the decision of the dates to visit the island. The number of touristic products for sale, such as special packages in hotels (reduced rates during the festival, visits to museums and historic places, meals on restaurants and others attractions) will also increase. Another benefit to local economies and tourism is that filmmakers who attend the festival may regard those places as a possible setting for their future films, which will in turn promote the destination. Finally, it was very interesting to know that a filmmaker opted to buy her second house in Madeira after visiting us for the film festival! The Funchal International Film Festival in Madeira Islands is only in its 3rd edition but has already started catching the attention of filmmakers, producers and tourists!

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