2023 data trends at festivals in Northern Ireland

In early June, we were invited to a Festivals Forum meeting in the Bullitt Hotel, where we presented some of our findings on festival audience behaviour over the last 4 years. We carried out desk research on festival audience trends, and pulled some data from our own database regarding 5 local festivals; Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Out to Lunch Festival, EastSide Arts Festival, Open House Festival and Belfast Children’s Festival. This meant we could get a clearer picture of how festivals are performing here in NI compared with wider trends happening elsewhere in the UK.

Our presentation was well received by the forum, and we got some fantastic feedback from those in attendance.

The main points to note from our research:

o Audience demand and revenue are back up and set to continue on an upward trajectory – there were more tickets sold in 2022-23 than in the year before the pandemic (2019-2020). Revenue is higher than pre-pandemic levels (£740k vs. £680k). According to a Mintel report, UK music concerts and festival incomes are set to surpass pre-Covid levels in 2023.

o Bookers are buying more tickets on average than they were before the pandemic (3.08 per booker vs. 3 in 2019-20).

o Ticket yield is down, which means people are spending less per person. While there was a 14% increase in tickets sold in 2022-23 vs. 2019-20, there was only a 9% increase in revenue in that same period.

o Supply in terms of the number of events per festival is down – festivals are programming fewer events than pre-pandemic.

o The trend of last-minute booking that developed during the pandemic seems to be here to stay. 40% of people surveyed report that they are still booking more last-minute than they used to according to the Audience Agency Cultural Monitor Report.

What we heard from Forum Attendees:

Some of the festivals put forward that the last-minute booking trend could be a blessing in disguise. The trend could act as a chance for organisers to condense their festival publicity, launching larger and later marketing campaigns that specifically target last-minute bookers. This could be cost saving, but also help to nudge indecisive bookers over the line. Save-the-dates could be sent to international audiences to ensure they’re not left out by last-minute campaigns.

Physical marketing (leaflets, posters etc) presents some dilemmas for organisers – they’re usually distributed in the weeks approaching their festival and may be picked up by people who will have left the area by the time it kicks off. This too could be addressed by focusing marketing efforts closer to the start of the festival and ensuring physical marketing is seen by potential attendees.

The cost-of-living crisis and skyrocketing inflation have festival organisers feeling the pinch. Some festivals reported pressure to prioritise quantity over quality when it comes to festival programming – which can be a hard sell when it comes to securing funding. The overall scale of the festivals has been reduced, but they still cost the same (if not more) to deliver.

Festivals were also interested in why they were seeing increasing numbers of no-shows, even at paid events. Having a framework for exchanges and/or refunds might give festival organisers a better insight into projected actual attendance versus sales, which will in turn allow them to plan seating, bar spends and even to move to a smaller venue if necessary.

Earlier this month, we were invited to take part in the Festivals Forum, where we presented some of our findings on festival audience attendance over the last 4 years. The meeting provided us with great insight into trends from across NI festivals. Eve discusses in this report.

Thrive Festival trends in NI 2023

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