Global events expert warn Edinburgh’s festivals to prepare for ‘new abnormal’

A global expert on major events has warned Edinburgh’s festivals to prepare for a “new abnormal” of smaller audiences due to a fear factor caused by Covid, the need to drive down their impact on the environment and resistance from local residents to constant growth.

Professor Joe Goldblatt, founder of the International Live Events Association, predicted the city’s major events would have to reinvent themselves in the next few years to “remove the fear that is still in the hearts of some audience members”.

Prof Goldblatt, who lives in Edinburgh and is one of the leading independent analysts of its festivals, urged them to focus marketing efforts on UK-based audiences and rely less on international visitors in the near future to help reduce their carbon footprint.

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He suggested festival organisers would have to rethink the way events were staged to appeal to younger and “more environmentally sensitive" audience members in future.

Professor Joe Goldblatt, who has worked on events for Ronald Reagan, Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump, is the founding president of the International Live Events Association.

Prof Goldblatt, previously head of the International Centre for the Study of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, said the festivals would also have to continue to offer online programmes to ensure they could expand their global footprint without negatively impacting the planet.

Writing on his website, Prof Goldblatt said: "The new abnormal will require our festival makers to engage more closely with their audiences in terms of researching, developing, curating and delivering the type of programming that will offer a unique selling proposition for individuals to be motivated to attend both face-to-face and online events.

“The new abnormal will also require our festival makers to re-examine the negative environmental impacts of international airline travel.

"International tourists historically have been important economic contributors for the Edinburgh festivals. They stay longer and spend more than domestic tourists and therefore are extremely valuable to the destinations they visit.

Edinburgh University's Old College Quad has been transformed to allow it to host International Festival concerts this month. Picture: Jessica Shurte

"In order for our cultural crown jewels, in what is widely recognised as the world’s festival capital, to grow in the future from strength to strength, we must find new ways that many would consider to be abnormal following a successful run of almost three quarters of a century.

“However, unless we collectively work together to remove the fear that is still in the hearts of some audience members, what we once considered normal may be in fact detrimental to our future.

"Therefore we must now strive even harder to move toward something abnormal in order to create a sustainable future for our creative community and their future audience.”

Prof Goldblatt told The Scotsman: “The normative growth of the festivals for the past ten years has been an upward trajectory.

"I see this changing due to both the continuous fear caused by the pandemic and also resistance from residents to continued growth.

"Therefore I see incremental, slow and steady growth, but not a return to the normal large numbers we have seen in the past decade.

"Furthermore I see much more emphasis upon environmental sustainability in terms of reduced international airline transport and fewer private vehicles in the city in the near to mid-term future.

“The festivals will be significantly different in terms of audience size, programming content and distribution, with greater use of domestic performers and an expanded focus on sustainability to attract young and more environmentally sensitive audience members.”

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