There has been a lot of debate recently about whether government should fund events or not, and I must say that the topic is a lot more complicated than it first appears.
I guess the place to start is to establish what kind of events we are talking about.
Government for a while embraced the idea of running and hosting events, some municipalities decided that it might be a good idea to run one in every ward, with the idea that drawing people into the area would be good for tourism, but tourism is not just about bringing people in to an area, it is about directing their spend. It is about separating people from their money and getting them to spend as much as possible in an area, and there must be a reasonable return on investment. If you’re paying out an inordinate amount of money for a line-up of artists and the only person making any money is the event organiser from ticket sales, then I’m afraid that you’ve missed the tourism boat.
Problems have arisen because inexperienced “fly-by-night” event organisers have been awarded preposterous sums of money to hold events (often music or cultural events) with no vetting and no real economic projections having been done.
I am not in favour of having events for the sake of having events. I am in favour of strategically attracting major events, run by credible people and/or organisations, that show believable economic projections. I think that it is an entirely sensible tourism approach for areas that do not have a natural “hook” like the sea or for those areas trying to address issues of seasonality.
I am a believer, because I was involved with attracting the international cycling events to Pietermaritzburg and I have seen the benefits first hand. Pietermaritzburg is one of three official Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Bike Cities in the world. The official Bike City in Europe is Copenhagen, Melbourne is Australasia’s Bike City, and Pietermaritzburg is the official Bike City for Africa. We have hosted a full programme of international cycling events, with the support of Provincial Government, including 6 World Cup events and 5 world Championships, and we are set to host the Para-Cycling Road World Cups in 2015 and 2016, and the World Championships in 2017, and we have been awarded the Mountain Biking Masters World Championships in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The events have attracted 148 101 participants to date, we have enjoyed 1700 hours of international television coverage, valued at in excess of R5 billion and R134 million was directly spent in the local economy, with an additional indirect spend of R361 million being enjoyed.
Add to this the economic benefits and exposure that we enjoy from other major events, like the Dusi Canoe Marathon, the Comrades Marathon, the Midmar Mile and the Royal Show, to name but a few, and one can clearly see what drives our local tourism economy. Pietermaritzburg is undeniably an events city.
A credible calendar of events has the ability to change a city’s economy quite dramatically and it would be a great pity if we allowed the poor experiences from dodgy event deals to colour our view of all events. In my opinion, we need to make sure that we support appropriate events in order to keep them sustainable, and we need to make sure that we are leveraging all that we can off of these events in terms of add-on product and developmental programmes. If the sums make sense then the additional wins are what we need to work on.