Helping North Carolina get the most from its festivals

Posted on February 18, 2020

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Mount Airy, North Carolina is unique. Not only is it a neighbor to the Appalachian Mountains, but it was also the birthplace of Andy Griffith. It is said to have inspired the town of Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show.

Each year, the town takes advantage of these attributes, throwing an Autumn Leaves Festival and an event called Mayberry Days. For Dr. Erick Byrd, these celebrations are part of what makes a place special.

“They’re a vital part of a tourism inventory, or a portfolio, for communities,” he said. “Especially in smaller communities.”

Each year, Mount Airy takes advantage of its attributes, throwing an Autumn Leaves Festival and an event called Mayberry Days. (Photo credit: Autumn Leaves Festival)

Byrd, an associate professor in the Bryan School’s Department of Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Hospitality, and Tourism, recently received a $1,000 grant from the North Carolina Department of Commerce to continue looking into the economic impact of these types of events.

The process of throwing a festival typically begins with choosing a purpose, whether that’s celebrating civic pride, showcasing local businesses, or trying to attract tourists for the economic impact, for example. But Byrd’s research focuses more on the tail end of that process, how communities are — or aren’t — calculating an event’s economic impact.

“One of the things that a lot of these communities are struggling with is they have these small festivals but they don’t have any way to measure the outcomes, the economic impact, or the spending that visitors do to get there,” he said. “One- to two-day festivals don’t have a huge budget, so having the budget to do a study, any kind of research study is unrealistic.”

This latest grant is allowing Byrd to head to Pilot Mountain, Boonville, Elkin, and Mount Airy.

He’s found that in some cases these towns have specific goals, like drawing millennials in from across the state. This goal would drive the decision whether to hold, say, a classic car cruise-in or a Color Run, according to Byrd. But in addition to that planning, understanding where the money is coming from can be hugely beneficial. Money coming in from local residents is great, but it’s not new money.

Byrd is developing a website, or tool kit, with the goal of helping smaller communities go as far as possible in the process of measuring a festival’s impact.

“The math is fairly basic,” Byrd said. “Getting direct expenditures, that’s simply a survey and understanding proportions and doing some multiplication.”

Festivals can be an easy way to create an attraction and pull people in. Byrd believes they’re also important to the cohesiveness of a community.

“Especially now that you’re seeing a lot of downtowns being revitalized, you’ve got to have days and times where you can celebrate their accomplishments and showcase what you have,” Byrd said. “But on the flip side, you’ve always got to be able to say why it’s vital. This is one way to help communities do that.”


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