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The Rise of Destination Festivals

With the music festival landscape in the United States becoming more and more saturated, many artists and event organizers are looking abroad to host their festivals.

Music festivals for most people are already an escape from reality for a few days. They represent a safe space where one can check their problems at the gate and dance for hours on end. They have become even more of an escape as these events have begun to move offshore to coveted destinations all around the world. With the music festival landscape in the United States becoming more and more saturated, many artists and event organizers are looking abroad to host their festivals. Taking their festival brands international, creating events at all inclusive resorts, and hosting festivals on cruise ships have all risen in popularity recently. These events typically attract an older demographic with more disposable income and represent not only an opportunity for event organizers but also the host destinations.

For marketers, these types of festivals have huge advantages. Not only can they leverage the pull of the musicians hosting, they also get to use the allure of paradise. Images of white sand beaches, luxurious accommodations, and the clear blue ocean can make for some incredible advertisements. Marketers can also help to avoid the sticker shock of the final price by adequately sharing all the amenities included. Packages that include accommodations, airport transfers, food, snacks, and alcohol are just the beginning. The opportunity to interact with artists at the breakfast table, have your bed walking distance from the stages, go on excursions in foreign lands, and be with all your friends in a tropical paradise is some of the major draws to these types of events.

Difficulties can arise when planning a festival abroad. One of the major issues can be not pricing the event properly for the fan base. This is why it is easier for genre specific rather than artist specific events to thrive. However, with the proper research it is possible to create a successful event. Jam bands in particular have begun to host multiple day events at all inclusive resorts. This is due in part to their audience being on the older side with slightly deeper pockets. Not only do they have more disposable income but they value ease of travel. An all inclusive resort means they don’t have to plan for accommodation, transportation to the stages, and other items like food and drink. Making it easier for them to travel, combined with other perks like a more intimate show make these events very desirable.

The Rise of the All Inclusive

Many musicians have expanded their global reach by hosting events at all inclusive resorts. Many jam bands in particular have found this to be their niche market. With an aging fan base that has deep pockets, it makes sense that these groups would take their shows to tropical destinations. One popular event, My Morning Jacket’s One Big Holiday in Punta Cana, has packages that start at $2,000 (not including flights). River Maya has proven to be a popular resort, hosting Dead and Company’s Playing in the Sand, Zac Brown Band’s Castaway, and Widespread Panic’s Panic at the Playa. Jam bands have widely seen great success in recent years but other artists, like Bassnectar who just announced his first all inclusive event in Mexico, have also begun to jump on the bandwagon.


While it is a big price tag, it does include alcohol and food. The other advantage to everything being included is that these events are typically more intimate. The crowds are smaller and the artists are on vacation too, tending to interact more with guests off the stage. Island Gigs advertises that in addition to food and drink attendees also have the following included in their stay “3 – 4 Full Length Shows under the stars, Special Guests, Autograph Sessions, Activities with Band Members, Optional Day Trips”.

Bringing Cruising to Millennials

The typical market for cruises is not typically millennials. It is usually those in a much older age demographic or families looking for fun for everyone. However, that has been changing with the introduction of festival cruises, particularly those with a heavy electronic music line up. Sailings like Holy Ship, Groove Cruise, Ark Festival, It’s the Ship, and others have brought the rave scene onto the high seas. These high energy events give attendees the ease and comforts of a luxury cruise line with all the fun action of a music festival. That, plus everything is included. Guests do not have to worry about food, alcohol, or transportation once on the ship.  

Not only has electronic music seen a high success rate but all kinds of genres have found their niche in the open water. StarVista Live is a company that focuses on genre-themed cruises. Their portfolio includes Soul Train Cruise, the Flower Power Cruise, the Southern Rock Cruise, the Country Music Cruise, the Malt Shop Memories Cruise. The key to success has been to target one specific demographic and theme the cruise accordingly. The biggest draw for many fans is the opportunity to be on a boat with their favorite artists.

“You’re running into the artists at the gym and buffet lines and all that stuff that is going to break the wall down between the artists and the guests,” said Mike Jason, a senior vice president at StarVista LIVE/Time Life tells USA Today. “It’s very different from a normal cruise that’s kind of leisurely, a slower pace. This is filled with activities. You wouldn’t want to go on the cruise if you didn’t like the music.”

For some, it’s the music that draws them to far off destinations. They see their favorite artist is performing in paradise and they have to go see them. Or they see a line up they love and book the trip that so happens to be on a boat. Adam Coulter, the managing editor of Cruise Critic, told The Guardian, “With something like Anchored, people didn’t necessarily know they were going on a cruise. This just happened to be a floating festival at sea”. For others, they love the convenience that this type of vacation offers. Being able to see their favorite artists while their bed is just a few decks below is a very favorable set up.

While the music is what initially draws many attendees, it is the overall experience that truly makes these events so popular. Just like at an all inclusive resort, the walls between artists and guests are torn down on a festival cruise. Guests are able to interact with their favorite musician on a more personal level. Sometimes it is a random interaction and others it is through planned activities. Since everyone is together for a longer period of time, cruises present more opportunities for event organizers to plan memorable and one-of-a-kind experiences for those on board.

“It’s not about the concerts,”said Anthony Diaz, chief executive officer of Sixthman to USA Today, quickly noting Sixthman does that, too. “But fans get to play basketball with someone from 311 or do a guitar solo contest with the guitar player from Kiss. It’s all the things that can’t happen in a Bridgestone Arena environment. What we’re able to offer fans is four or five days on vacation immersed in activities.”

Festival Brands Who Host Multiple International Events

It’s not always just paradise that draws music festival fans to travel abroad. Sometimes it’s not their favorite artists that draws them to hop on a plane, but rather their favorite festival. Many major festival brands like Lollapalooza, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Ultra have utilized the draw of their name to spread their reach far and wide. While the goal is to break into a new market, often time the attendees are mostly comprised of Americans looking to combine their vacation with their love of music festivals. While breaking into a new market can be challenging, especially in a foreign land, many of this major brands leverage local production companies to help smoothly enter the country.

Many know Lollapalooza as the largest festival over summer in Chicago. For four days every year massive stages are set up all across the city’s famous Grant Park. Some of the biggest names in music like Bruno Mars, Jack White, Travis Scott, and others grace the stages in Windy City. What many do not know is that since 2011 the festival has also been hosted in cities all around the world. That year the event was also hosted in the capital city of Santiago, Chile in April. In order to help things run smoothly, event organizers partnered with a local company, Lotus. Collaborating with local companies has proven to be one of the keys for success when branching out into a new country. Those groups not only have the proper resources and boots already on the ground, but they can also understand the cultural nuances and other similar factors at play in that region. In Berlin, Perry Farrell, the founder of Lollapalooza, even picked an artist to serve as the face of the festival and curate the style of the event. He chose Juan Marco, known on stage as The Future Bones, to fill that position. In a press release about the expansion to Berlin Farrell stated that, “Berlin’s energy, vibrant art, fashion and music scenes are a mirror reflection of what Lollapalooza is all about and I can’t wait to share in this cultural exchange”. In Germany they employed the help of Melt! Booking and Festival Republic to assist with running the event which drew 70,000 people each day. The festival has also hosted editions of the event in Brazil, Argentina, Paris, and recently announced that in 2019 it will be heading to Stockholm, Sweden.


Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas is one of the biggest electronic music festivals in the world, drawing hundreds of thousands of attendees to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway every year. It has a huge multimillion dollar impact on the Las Vegas region year over year. It has also expanded that impact abroad. Puerto Rico was the first destination the EDC expanded to all the way back in 2009. Since then Insomniac, the company behind the festival, has hosted EDCs in England, Mexico, Brazil, India, China, and Japan.

Ultra Music Festival may have recently lost its home at Bayfront Park in Miami, but it still has many places all around the world to host it’s events. In 2008, it launched Ultra Worldwide, the international expansion of the electronic music festival. The first event outside the United States took place in Brazil. In 2017, they launched 23 new musical endeavours abroad, attracting over 1 million attendees. Matching that of Formula 1 racing, the company hosted events in 20 countries across 5 continents. It’s overall attendance numbers are on par with that of the Winter

Olympics in PyeongChang. Now they host festivals in  Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; Seoul, Korea; Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa; Tokyo, Japan; Bali, Indonesia; Singapore, Singapore; Split, Croatia; Shanghai, China; Mexico City, Mexico and Ibiza, Spain. In addition to these multi-day events, the company also launched “Road to Ultra” one day events all around the globe. These single-stage, single day events have taken place in Hong Kong, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Colombia, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Macau, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru.

With the domestic market becoming more and more saturated everyday, live event producers have begun to look outside the country to host their festivals. Destination festivals to tropical paradises, on luxurious cruise ships crossing the open sea, or major cities in beautiful countries have increased in popularity recently. For fans, the allure of all inclusive is a huge draw for them to shell out more money than they typically do on festivals in the United States. Not only is everything from accomodations to food included, they also get more opportunities to interact with their favorite artist and have unique experiences in a foreign land. For major festival brands, expanding their name into new countries represents an chance to introduce their festival to new people but to also give their loyal attendees from the States a chance to also have a travel adventure in addition to going to their favorite festival.


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