how big events must consider the locals

The Edinburgh Festival how large events must consider the locals

There are many different things you are taught as an event organiser, but one ever present is that “big is beautiful” There’s scarcely an events organiser who doesn’t want their small event to grow to epic proportions.

However sometimes the size of your current event is as big as it needs to be. Events don’t have to grow to be successful. In fact sometimes they get so big that they start to have a negative impact on the environment in which they take place.

In this post I want to look at the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe Festival which take place in Edinburgh every August.

The size of the Edinburgh Festival

Every year Edinburgh, a relatively small city in a small country, is the destination for the “World’s largest international arts festival” 2018 marked the most successful event to date, with the Edinburgh fringe selling 2.8m tickets.

Scotland’s capital is only able to host an event of this size because outstanding artists of today stand on the shoulders of giants. But it’s not just Scotland’s cultural heritage which helps it host this event.

The support infrastructure filled with skilled and knowledgeable event professionals, audio and visual suppliers, stage set builders, etc. allow this festival to flourish. Without the events industry there is no festival.

The stage is built on one of the world’s best backdrops. A breathtakingly stunning city places Edinburgh apart from many other “wanna be” international art festivals. People visit for the events but……what a stage Edinburgh makes.

However, increasingly, year on year, that stage seems to be creaking. Event organisers and the millions of guests aren’t leaving their mark, rather according to some locals, they are leaving a stain on the host city.

edinburgh international festival complaints

After over seventy years the Edinburgh Festival and the Fringe are now woven into the cultural tapestry of Scotland. However, alongside the plaudits there is failure. The locals are restless.

“If these criticisms aren’t addressed they will mount and the festival will become confirmed as an event that is wholly imported and subjected on people, rather than in any sense hosted” – Mike Small Editor of influential Scottish magazine Bella Caledonia.

The Perfect Stage

During the 1990s I had occasional trips to Edinburgh and I remember the Festival much like the Hogmanay festivities that take place on the 31st December into 1st January.

Those events were very manageable for attendees and organisers. International visitors made up a small percentage of the crowd and it was pretty easy to experience Edinburgh, while these events were on, without crashing into either of them. How things have changed.

Both these events are huge, and both are not without controversy, especially around working conditions for staff and the use or mis-use of volunteers (as a Living Wage Employer I make my view very clear here); so size brings its own complications. But still we event organisers crave growth.

The Event Organisers’ role

Like every other industry the events industry, in general, strongly believes that big is beautiful. We are a capitalist industry like every other, constantly living with the fear that we have to grow or die.

This leads to ignorance. Like most business people we aren’t trained, educated or in many cases aware that there is a negative impact from the work we do.

But for event organisers it’s even more difficult than most for us not to bask in our God like status. Maybe you don’t want a big event in your backyard, but sure as anything your country and your city does!

The ever popular event industry

In many cases, countries, regions and cities will pay the event organiser of a profitable show a trunk load of money to bring an event to your doorstep. Valencia submitted a bid of €170m to host the Web Summit, so it is no surprise that complaints from locals often meet with the response: “other cities would DIE to be as lucky as you”

We have people volunteering to work for us. They don’t want to be paid, they just want to be able to attend our events for free.

Even when an event makes millions of pounds profit, organisers can still get the Government to pay them to relocate their hugely profitable event.

See, everyone loves us, so should we care about a few locals?

It is with this attitude that many organisers and promoters will view the grievances of some “noisy locals”. And it’s not just a few organisers and promoters who run events during this particular festival who feel this way. Across the globe the events industry as a whole, fails to address raised by their hosts.

In Barcelona the city struggles to cope with Europe’s largest tech event, Mobile World Congress, but even the socialist mayor was keen to persuade the event to stay. Here’s a detailed post on the impact this event is having on its host city.

As an industry we have to first understand the negative impacts we can make and then secondly we have to act.

A call for dialogue

There are genuine concerns in Edinburgh over the size, scale and type of events that Edinburgh now holds. Almost every popular city in Europe has similar concerns about “peak tourism” The event industry has to be aware of the negative impacts that our events can and do have. And then we have to be involved in solving the problems.

Last year within the ‘Skills needed for organising an event’ blog post, I highlighted that “more event planners should be, at least aware, of the “impact”, both positive and negative of their events” but you will struggle to see other event industry types even mention these issues. Many of the Event Associations have a habit of burying their head in the sand. 

Events bolster the exceptionally important tourist industry in many countries but events have to add value to their locality

Event organisers carry out their work in a diligent and thoughtful manner, just trying to make a living, like everyone else. I believe for most organisers the issues are around awareness and education, rather than a hell for leather, damn them all approach.

Event organisers and promoters should work with Government agencies, local authorities and local communities to ensure their events are welcome and they must place profit alongside their social and community responsibilities.

Event organisers have big responsibilities and it’s time to live up to them.

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