On a vacation to the Canadian Maritimes last week, I stumbled upon an amazing phenomenon. To soak in the tranquility of the great outdoors, we headed to Prince Edward Island for some beach-side camping and encountered the Cavendish Beach Music Festival.
Don’t let the words “beach music” fool you. The event is billed as the world’s greatest country music festival. It’s also located so far off the beaten path most would call the island “the middle of nowhere.” Residents and visitors prefer to think of it as a destination.
Annually, more than 30 country music acts converge on PEI and rock more than 70,000 visitors in the tiny and quaint coastal community of Cavendish. This isn't local musicians or simply Canadian acts, it’s a who’s who of country music. Some of the festival alumni include Taylor Swift, Big & Rich, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and Eric Church. Take a look at a map, see if you can find Prince Edward Island then try and imagine that multi-platinum and Grammy award winners line up to perform at this event.
It’s understandable to expect major U.S. cities such as Nashville, Austin and Seattle to emerge as music tourism destinations with their billion-dollar economies and internationally known brands, but not a tiny island of less than 120,000 residents. That is until you look a little closer, then what you find unlocks the keys to every entrepreneur seeking to turn their business into a destination as well.
Created in 2009, the three-day festival has a direct annual economic impact of $13 to 16 million on the local community. It’s a shining example of the power of focus and the strength in partnership. In just a few short years, it’s become an international destination and garnered massive media attention. You can do the same thing if you follow its lead.
Festival president and CEO Jeff Squires explains the key to success was in leveraging the strengths of the community.
“Our isolation is actually an advantage," he says. "We leveraged our community’s assets (camping, dining, pristine beaches and the warmest waters north of the Carolinas) and turned what was once a cow pasture overlooking the north shore beach into a destination.”
What are the hidden strengths of your community, which at first glance seem like a disadvantage? What existing assets can you leverage into a customer destination?
I bet there are some great ones right under your nose that may be going completely underutilized. There are lots of arena concerts in major cities, but an arena certainly isn’t a destination. A small beach-side community figured out a way to create an experience so compelling and memorable that it put them on the map as a destination. It also provided a massive boost to an area whose primary economic driver is a small eight-week window of tourism.
If they can do it, you can too. Lots of businesses sell a product or service but very few have mastered the art of converting that transaction into an experience or unique destination.
1. Identify trends.
Squires and his team foresaw how the digital revolution in music sales and piracy have made touring the primary way musicians earn a living today. Given this shift in the landscape of music distribution, PEI making itself a destination was a stroke of marketing genius. The organizers saw an opportunity to make music tourism an economic asset to their community. The artists ask to return each year because they love having such a captive audience over an extended period of time.
Wouldn’t you love to have your customer’s undivided attention for more than a few minutes?
Destinations are powerful because they create an experience unlike that which you can capture on iTunes or YouTube. They drive social engagement and expand quality of life. You can do the same thing by turning an aspect of your business into a live experience for your customers. Looking ahead, what industry trend can you capitalize on?
2. Add an exclusivity upsell.
Kim Doyle, senior vice president of the festival, explained that its organizers found ways to expose the brand to a different demographic through creating a special and exclusive experience within the event. This is done through offering a limited number of $1,000 premium tickets where you can get the best seat in the house for all three days along with an opportunity to have dinner backstage with the artists.
Wouldn’t you like to attract a different demographic? Create your own version of this by offering your customers a platinum membership or VIP experience with your brand.
Maybe music isn’t your ticket to becoming a destination but your business can harness the power of live events and collaboration to create a similar synergy.
Nationally, it can be as simple as Lowe's in-store “Let’s build something together” do-it-yourself classes. Or bringing a simple retail product to life in a new way as Lego Land has done by making the park a destination. LL Bean has done a fabulous job of becoming a destination offering experiences beyond outlet shopping. It created Outdoor Discovery School where you can test drive canoes, kayaks and fishing rods or take classes on the water at its company headquarters in Freeport, Maine.
These are different industries, but there is one common theme: Leverage your assets to become a destination.
Locally, a spa can partner with a restaurant and local inn to create weekend getaway packages. A tuxedo rental shop can partner with a baker, wedding gown maker, florist, travel agent and local conference center or resort to put together a bridal expo.
Who can become your strategic partners?
3. Build buy in.
Squires attributes the rapid growth of the event to “being a bridge builder" and "getting all key partners around the table.” The entire community embraces the event because they have become vested partners in the event. The festival partners with local non-profit organizations and together they raise $1.5 million annual for these charities. It’s a win-win.
All it takes is committing to a course of action that leverages your strengths to become a unique destination for your audience. Bring your stakeholders together, tap into their collective expertise and create a lucrative and unique destination or experience. Think big but start small. Act now because if you don’t leverage your resources you’re essentially leaving one of your most valuable assets on the table.
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