Festivals: New Orleans’ Best Little Secret
Come one, come all … let’s have a ball.
Festivals fuel the New Orleans economy. With tourism generating just shy of $1 billion in NOLA for 2014 alone, there is no time like the present to capitalize on this lucrative industry.
“Cultural businesses,” the category under which festival organizers, vendors, etc. fall, are currently 1,658 strong, according to a study published by the Mayor’s office. These 1,600-plus businesses benefit directly from the 9.5 million visitors who collectively spend $960 million. Festivals alone attracted over 4 million visitors in 2014, and accounted for a bulk of tourism’s economic impact. Festivals are an unimaginably diverse category; for every area of interest and appreciation, there exists such a festival. For small business owners, the scope of festivals in New Orleans (there are currently 130), offers an amazingly wide customer base, and, by selecting the right festivals, you can fine tune your business operation to sell to your ideal customers. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest and best festivals in town.
King of them all reigns New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, better known as Jazz Fest. Held the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May, Jazz Fest creates an economic impact of over $300 million for the city. While Mardi Gras is undoubtedly the single biggest cultural economic contributor to New Orleans, Jazz Fest is a strong second. With nearly half a million visitors to the festival over two weekends, scores of vendors have the opportunity to bring in six figures for just two weeks’ work. Yes, the days are long, but the money is just as good as the music.
French Quarter Festival, held just a few weeks before Jazz Fest, is another huge event for the city. Drawing locals and tourists alike — over 730,000 visitors total — this free music festival generates an estimated $250 million, according to a study conducted by the University of New Orleans.
Music or food are the core of almost every festival in New Orleans. From Oak Street Po-Boy Festival to Cigar Box Guitar Festival, every event has its own unique culture. Finding a festival with a culture and attendance base that matches your business can be the fastest way to newfound success. For example, if you are a new Uptown restaurant or food vendor trying to gain traction with the large population of college students at Tulane and Loyola universities, consider Tulane Crawfest. While small compared to Jazz Fest, Crawfest is the largest student-run music festival in the nation; with 12,000 attendees over a single day in April (and 20,000 pounds of crawfish) Crawfest could be a great business decision. Or, take Essence Music Festival — it is the No. 1 R&B festival, and the largest U.S. festival celebrating African American culture and music. But there is more to festival life than just music and food.
If you are a business looking to introduce yourself to a different, more cerebral market, the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival is a great venue that showcases a different side of New Orleans life. New Orleans is also home to a rapidly growing film scene; not only are Hollywood studios now filming blockbusters right here in the Crescent City, but independent filmmakers from in town and across the country are making New Orleans Film Festival the fastest growing film festival in the nation. Growth is good for every business under the sun, so tapping into rapidly expanding events is a great way to harness their success and make it your own.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box too and expand your geographic reach. Ponchatoula, just 50 minutes from New Orleans on I-55, is home to Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival. In 2009, Ponchatoula did an economic impact survey and found that Strawberry Festival’s 350,000 visitors bring in over $33 million to Tangipahoa Parish. Moreover, Ponchatoula has rightfully earned itself the title, “Strawberry Capital of the World.” The interesting thing about Strawberry Festival, is, unlike many other festivals, this one is entirely non-profit — all proceeds from the festival go to charity. However, Tangipahoa Parish has 33 million reasons proving that just because something is non-profit, doesn’t mean it can’t be great for local economies and small businesses.
So, if you want to boost sales and reach new markets, all while enjoying the freedom of being a business owner, think about festivals as a new way to grow your business. And, if you don’t own a business yet, now is a great time to buy one!
5 Ways to Thrive & Capitalize on New Orleans’ Festivals
1. Festivals are a staple of the New Orleans economy, bringing in four million visitors and nearly $1 billion annually. Don’t just visit these festivals, tap into the hundreds of millions of dollars and grow your business.
2. Vendors of all varieties have the opportunity to harness the economic power of festivals. New Orleans is home to 130 festivals each year; with events covering food, music, literature and everything in between, there is a festival that’s right for your business.
3. Jazz Fest, the largest New Orleans festival, has an economic impact of over $300 million — for smart vendors, just a few weeks’ work could bring in six figures in revenue!
4. Don’t be afraid to look beyond the usual selection of festivals! Scores of smaller events can bring new customers to your business!
5. Don’t ignore this gold mine in our own city. Find the festivals that fits your business plan, and reap the rewards this season!