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All Aboard: How music cruises are making a splash

Stories of thousands of holidaymakers being isolated on their ships and of vessels being turned away from ports battered the cruise industry in the early days of the pandemic. But a programme of vigorous health screening and positive marketing to prospective passengers has seen the business re-float spectacularly in the past couple of years, while the concept of high-end vacations with your favourite act is one that is winning converts with bands and artists, as well as the superfans who dote on them.

With the largest cruise ships in the world being able to cater for up to 7,000 passengers at a time, entertaining those aboard has always been a preoccupation with the companies who operate cruises, and with passengers paying thousands of dollars, euros, pounds etc per head, expectations are that there will be some recognisable names among the on-board performers.

Meanwhile, other acts have taken cruising to a new level through chartered voyages in their own name to give fans unique and intimate access. And that niche business is growing fast, as more and more artist managers and agents tap into the cruise sector as a way of connecting with superfans, who appear very happy to part with significant sums of cash to holiday with their idols. For example, in Europe, the success of Full Metal Cruise will see two sailings around Scandinavia in 2024, with prices ranging from €1,199-3,499 per person for the four- or five-night voyages.

Departing from the UK, meanwhile, P&O has the likes of Sailing with the Stars, while the popular Back to the 80’s Cruise, sailing from Southampton takes guests on a Royal Caribbean vessel for a week-long voyage stopping at Bilbao, Vigo and Lisbon, with performers such as Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley, ABC’s Martin Fry, Belinda Carlise, and Kim Wilde aboard to provide entertainment, from prices starting at £649 (€749) per person.

“[EDSea] sold out on its presale when packages went on sale earlier this year”

Also tapping into growing demand, Richard Branson’s Virgin Voyages now has four ships offering adventures around Europe, the Caribbean, Australia & South Pacific, as well as Transatlantic, for prices starting at under £1,000 per cabin for two-night sailings, all the way to more than £21,000 per cabin for New Year bookings.

The likes of KISS (The KISS Kruise), Bon Jovi (Runaway to Paradise), Backstreet Boys (Back at the Beach), Kid Rock (Chillin’ the Most), Megadeth (MegaCruise), and Paramore (Parahoy!), to name but a few, have learned about the advantages of the format, while genre-specific cruising has also become a big business, with EDM, metal, and MOR all enjoying multiple annual events, in the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas especially.

Indeed, such is the success of live music cruise ventures that Live Nation’s destination experience division, Vibee, is preparing for its maiden cruise event: EDSea – a play on EDC, the name by which festival brand Electric Daisy Carnival is more commonly known. EDC is owned by Insomniac, in which Live Nation owns a stake, while Vibee is also partnering with market-leading cruise operator Sixthman for the four-night Caribbean cruise.

“Vibee’s mission is to curate exceptional multi-day events that cultivate unmatched fan-to-artist connections,” states Vibee president, Harvey Cohen. “People are eager to have immersive travel experiences, and cruises are a great way to see different parts of the world on one trip, so it felt like the right move for Vibee. [EDSea] sold out on its presale when packages went on sale earlier this year.”

“If there’s a passionate community that wants to have an intense, immersive vacation experience, we can build something amazing”

Using the Norwegian Joy cruise ship, EDSea, like dozens of similar cruises, departs Miami before sailing to Nassau where the event’s first land party will be held. It then travels to the private island of Great Stirrup Cay for another day of music. Sailing from 4-8 November, fans are being entertained by the likes of DJ Snake, Louis the Child, Slander, and Afrojack. “Fans can expect artist-hosted activities, go-karting, wellness sessions, and stage productions at the scale never seen before on a cruise ship, delivering a true EDC experience,” adds Cohen.

Those extra-curricular activities are a key selling point for cruise operators. Sixthman VP of events, marketing, talent & community, Jeff Cuellar, notes that curating a themed cruise programme involves a lot more than simply scheduling live performances. “It’s a strange example, as we’re not planning anything with Metallica, but I recently heard Lars Ulrich talking on the SmartLess podcast about how he wanted to be a professional tennis player, and that’s why he came to the States, where he met James Hetfield. Well, the people on our cruises are those passionate fans who are likely to know those juicy bits of knowledge, so imagine if you could offer them the chance to play tennis with Lars?!

“On previous events we’ve had fans singing Karaoke with Brandi Carlile (we called it Brandi-oke); cooking meatballs with Paul Stanley; playing trivia with Alex Trebek; and so much more over 174 festivals in the past 22 years.

“So the cruise is more than just an ‘entertain me’ scenario: they are fun, and the opportunities to experience something unique are endless. If there’s a passionate community that wants to have an intense, immersive vacation experience, then we can build something amazing.”

“We long ago thought it would age out, but we find new guests every year and new artists every year”

Catering to Different Demographics
Building something unforgettable is also the goal of StarVista LIVE, which has been riding the waves for around 15 years, having grown out of a division of Time Life infomercial empire. “We sold things like, ‘The greatest hits of the 60s’ and country music compilations and things,” explains the company’s president, Mike Jason.

He continues, “We could see that TV was fracturing and people were not moving away from buying physical goods. So we developed the idea of taking the music that people love and rather than selling physical goods, hosting live music and events. And through our experience in infomercials, we really had a feel for what people react to, and that influenced our decision to pick certain genres.”

StarVista’s maiden voyage was Malt Shop Memories, taking acts and their music from the late 50s and early 60s to play to an audience that not only connected with that period, but which also has the disposable income to afford cruise ship prices. “In October, we sailed our 14th Malt Shop Memories cruise,” reports Jason. “We long ago thought it would age out, but we find new guests every year and new artists every year and we’re able to cobble together a pretty interesting lineup for a really committed set of fans.”

That inaugural cruise concept has led StarVista to other genre-based sailings, including Soul Train, Country Music, Flower Power, 70s Rock & Romance, Southern Rock, Ultimate Disco, and a number of others. “We, kind of, roll out a new one every year,” comments Jason.

“There have been a record-breaking number of bookings on music cruises since the pandemic ended… we don’t see that changing”

Health Benefits
Addressing concerns about the negative press that cruise operators received during Covid, Cuellar contends that the way in which the industry bounced back has turned the health assumptions on their head. “The cruise line industry leaned into health and safety pretty hard, but our partners, Norwegian, really took the reins and recognised that this was an opportunity to create an environment that is the safest you can possibly put together,” reports Cuellar.

“I look at someone who’s putting something on for two hours, or even, you know, a three-day event, and their ability to control things can be difficult. If people are coming in and out and leaving multiple times, you have no idea what they’re doing or where they are. But on a cruise, we are in a unique position where we can create this bubble effect that increases hygiene and safety. I’m biased, but I don’t think those conversations were happening regarding aeroplanes or stadiums or any of the other places that were having the same issues.”

That observation certainly rings true for StarVista’s Jason. “There was maybe a moment where people were hesitant,” he recalls. “But when we came back in the fall of 2021, we had mandated 100% vaccination, and we did double testing, so you tested at home, and you have a negative result that you brought, and then we tested you at the port and allowed you aboard if you returned another negative. And so, it was probably one of the safest places you could be.”

Cohen agrees, noting, “There is no longer a risk advisory for cruises, and safety is always of the utmost priority to Vibee. There have been a record-breaking number of bookings on music cruises since the pandemic ended, and we don’t see that changing in the near future.”

“We’re a promoter. We essentially buy shows, or buy the talent, and then put together the experience, from a top line perspective”

Charter for Success
While the concept typically involves high ticket prices, and a luxury vessel that takes its passenger fans and talent to different countries, fundamentally the niche industry is not too far removed from the land-based live music world.

“We’re a promoter,” states Sixthman’s Cuellar. “We essentially buy shows, or buy the talent, and then put together the experience, from a top line perspective. We’re not talking about a brand that we’ve created, although we do have festivals, like The Rock Boat and Cayamo, where there’s a brand and communities that we’ve built. But we also have our host models, where KISS or Paramore or Chris Jericho or whoever the artists are, become our partners.

“Our deals are structured in a way [that it] is their event, while we provide the expertise to achieve and successfully execute [it]. We use our creativity and knowledge to be able to work the spaces. But I think what makes us different is our dedication to hospitality and how we break down some of those barriers between guests and artists to offer that kind of physical connection that you just can’t have at a standard concert or land-based festival. Essentially, you live together for a three-, four- or five-day period.”

StarVista has a similar business model. “We are turnkey,” says Jason. “We finance the lease of the ship from the charter company, so in effect we own the ship for the week, and essentially, we strip out their entertainment, which they don’t do well, and we leave the food and beverage, the spas, everything else that the ship does really well, to them.

“I can say that with some of the events we’ve had that have been unsuccessful, a lot of that will stem back to a lack of partner engagement”

“So, we do the marketing, we secure the artists, we bring all the backline equipment, audio, staging, etc on board, and we populate everything that needs to support the entertainment.”

Indeed, marketing is key. “When it comes to buying advertising, some of the traditional stuff is off the table just because it’s too expensive for such a small event, so we need to be creative to ensure that we are getting the information in front of the right people,” Cuellar tells IQ.

“Tapping into the artists’ databases is mission critical. It is not just from a messaging standpoint of actually informing their fans. But when they show the personality and the excitement behind it, the fan sees it and also gets excited about it.

“I can say that with some of the events we’ve had that have been unsuccessful, a lot of that will stem back to a lack of partner engagement.”

As newcomers to the market, Vibee has sensibly partnered with Sixthman for its maiden voyage, but Cohen’s business model also centres around the intimate opportunities they can create. “Vibee works alongside artists to create more personal experiences for their fans,” says Cohen. “We’ve learned that artists are really looking to build deeper connections with their fans, and we’re here to help them do just that. Artists know what their most dedicated fans want and have a strong vision for what will excite them most.”

Jason notes that finding ways to connect with the target audience can be challenging, but once that line of communication is established, the rewards can be fruitful. “For us, we’re looking mostly at an older demographic, but it’s a demographic that can spend $6,000 for a week for a couple,” he says.

“It’s almost like summer camp for adults”

“There are cabins that are cheaper and [those that are] more expensive, but it’s a substantial vacation. On the flip side, guests have access to upwards of 100 performances. So, if you’re music driven, and you really want to be with other folks that are passionate about the same music – generally, the music you grew up with – then, it’s a fantastic vacation experience, enjoying the camaraderie of people that love the same thing.”

Jason continues, “The first couple of years of a new cruise concept are the toughest because no one knows what they’re going to get. But if they come on board and have a great time, lots of them come back the second year. And by the third year, you can get up to 50% that are returning guests.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about pricing and communicate that the lowest price they’ll ever see is the price on board – we try to launch the following year’s event before we set sail this year. So the 2023 people can go and re-book for 2024 when they are on board.

“The other trick to is to secure the artists that far in advance. That’s been a little bit of a learning experience for the artists and booking agents. But it’s a good payday, usually in the winter when they’re not touring as much. So a lot of them will book gigs around it: they’ll put the band together to do the cruise, and they’ll do something on the front end and something on the back end, so they can create a month’s worth of shows where they might not otherwise be touring in January or February.”

Cuellar reveals, “The way that we have our agreements with talent is it’s not just a 60-minute set: the expectation is maybe a 60-minute set and a Q&A. Or we play some silly game together, [US game show] Family Feud style, or a corn-hole tournament, or something else along those lines to give that peek behind the curtain on the artist’s personal life. It’s just the ability to really dig in and create nooks and crannies throughout the ship – we can do whisky tastings, food demonstrations – there are so many different pieces, it’s almost like summer camp for adults.

“Forget political ideologies and religion or whatever it may be, there is a common bond amongst everybody on board, and they’re there for one thing: to have a great time with the thing they all love.”

“2025 is already ramping up to the point where I look at where there aren’t too many open slots remaining”

Growing Armada
Looking toward the future development of the sector, Cohen states, “As the appetite for travel shows no signs of slowing down, we see the cruise industry continuing to rise as well. Vibee wants to continue serving fans with curated, one-of-a-kind experiences on land and sea. When marketing traditional tours, the norm is to promote locally for shows in a large number of regions, [whereas] destination events employ convergent marketing to bring fans from far and wide to a single destination for a one-of-a-kind experience.”

Owned by cruise line Norwegian, Sixthman operated 19 cruises this year, and the diary is already full for 2024, leading Cuellar to also predict growth. “2025 is already ramping up to the point where I look at where there aren’t too many open slots remaining. In fact, I’m even looking ahead to 2026,” he says.

And it’s not only the Caribbean that Sixthman operate in. “We just concluded our third sailing in the Mediterranean with Joe Bonamassa,” says Cuellar. “And we’ve done other events, too, in the Mediterranean – Jon Bon Jovi, for instance. I definitely think there’s more opportunity there to develop concepts and programmes and work with artists to cater to an audience that’s primarily coming out of Germany or Italy or France or wherever.”

And while Jason also predicts growth, he believes the highly specialised nature of cruising makes it a tricky market to crack. “It’s a boutique business,” he says. “Live Nation can do stadiums with 100,000 people, and there’s merch, parking, and the scale is huge. On a cruise, there’s a limit to how many people you can have, so there’s a limit to revenue.

Artists can expect lucrative paydays, while strengthening bonds with their most passionate superfans

“It’s also very specialised, so you need to get, you know, eight or nine trucks’ worth of stuff onto a ship, which has to be cleared by customs, for instance. So it’s a big barrier to entry for small companies because it’s millions of dollars to lease a ship for a week – it’s a significant investment. And while a big company can afford that, it’s probably not going to get enough revenue to justify the risk.”

And Jason rules out the effective use of bigger vessels, for StarVista at least. “Our ships are about 1,000 cabins, which gets you around 2,000 guests. And the reason that we take that size ship is that the main theatre on those ships holds half the guests. So, the big headliners do two shows – an early show and a late show on the main theatre, and then the guests go to early dinner, late dinner, and we flip-flop so everyone gets to see the headliners. That’s not achievable on bigger ships.”

Concluding that artists can expect lucrative paydays, while strengthening bonds with their most passionate superfans, Cuellar says he cannot over-emphasise what impact a memorable cruise experience, and all the fun elements that his team, working with the artists, can achieve.

“Merchandise is definitely a part of it, and we work with the artists to keep the merch unique and only for those people on board,” he says.

“I’ve heard all of the ship puns, and we’ve incorporated them in so many ways. The name of the Impractical Jokers event, for example, is Get Ship Faced, which is perfect for their branding. But it’s fun, so why not lean into it – there’s no reason to reject the cheese, it’s just gonna make that burger taste better!”


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Sixthman partners on ‘Experiences at Sea’ brand

US-based cruise operator Sixthman has partnered with Norwegian Cruise Lines to launch a new brand called Experiences at Sea.

The brand will produce 13 consecutive events over 66 nights in spring 2023, featuring artists, athletes, actors and comedians.

Sixthman will bring 21 years of experience producing over 160 charters focused on immersive experiences to the partnership.

While Norwegian Pearl will serve as host to the ‘record-breaking’ number of back-to-back themed cruises from 20 January to 27 March 2023.

Voyages will sail from Miami to a variety of Caribbean islands, including the company’s private destinations of Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas and Harvest Caye in Belize.

“We are thrilled to be collaborating [on] a record-breaking 13 back-to-back immersive festival-at-sea cruises”

Artists booked for the events include The Isley Brothers, The Temptations, Joe Bonamassa, Fitz and the Tantrums and Lucinda Williams, and themes include The Beach Boys Cruise, Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea VIII and The Broadway Cruise.

“As we kick off 2023, we are thrilled to be collaborating with our expansive roster of artists and NCL client partners for a record-breaking 13 back-to-back immersive festival-at-sea cruises aboard Norwegian Pearl, bringing guests from an array of like-minded communities together to experience one-of-a-kind vacations alongside their favourite artists, athletes, actors, comedians and others within their lifestyle,” says Anthony Diaz, CEO of Sixthman and SVP of charters, meetings and incentives for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.

“Powered by all that the ‘Experiences at Sea’ unit provides, we are committed to going above and beyond to shatter the expectations of what a vacation can be. It’s been so rewarding being a part of setting the stage for guests to be able to get away to get together!”


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Wacken promoter announces heavy metal cruise

ICS Festival Service, the German promoter behind legendary heavy metal events such as Wacken Open Air, has announced a heavy metal cruise across the Mediterranean.

The five-day trip will see artists including Sabaton, Powerwolf, Kreator and Accept perform on the 2,400-capacity Norwegian Jade ship.

The 14–18 August cruise will depart from and return to the port of Athens, Greece, making stops in Kusadasi, Turkey, and Mykonos, Grecce, with a full day at sea in-between.

Other artists on the bill include Jinjer, The Darkness, Hämatom, Frog Leap, All Hail The Yeti, and Lucifer, with more artists to be announced.

“We could not be more fired up to serve the international metal community Hammership”

The cruise is organised in conjunction with Sixthman, a US-based cruise operator that has been staging festivals on the high seas for 21 years. Hammership will be Sixthman’s first foray into European waters.

“We could not be more fired up to serve the international metal community Hammership, a vacation at sea that will truly blow fans minds!” says Anthony Diaz, CEO of Sixthman.

“Together with ICS Festival Service GmbH, leaders in heavy metal live events and destination festivals, the iconic artist line-up and the incredible ‘venue’ of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Jade cruise ship which is perfectly suited for music festivals at sea, I have no doubt this will be a metal vacation not to be missed year after year!”

Tom Küppers of ICS Festival Service, added: “We are delighted to be allowed to support Sixthman in this project and thus to be active in new markets and ships.”

Tickets are on sale now and prices vary depending on the room type.


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Slipknot announce inaugural Knotfest at Sea

Knotfest, Slipknot’s multi-event metal festival brand, has announced Knotfest at Sea, its first-ever music cruise.

Due to set sail from Barcelona on 10 August 2020, and returning on 14 August, Knotfest at Sea joins existing Knotfest events in the US, Mexico, Japan, Colombia and, most recently, France, where the inaugural Knotfest Meets Hellfest event debuted this summer.

The floating festival, which will take place on Norwegian Cruise Lines’ 2,400-capacity Norwegian Jade, will feature two performances by Slipknot, alongside yet-to-be announced special guests.

A trailer featuring Clown, percussion for the metal superstars, can be viewed above.

Knotfest is produced by Sixthman, whose CEO, Anthony Diaz, spoke to IQ recently about the growth of music cruises, especially in Europe. “In the US [floating festivals are] a very common format, and agencies know the value they add to their artists,” he explained. “In Europe, when we started speaking to agents and managers two years ago, it was so new, but now that we’ve done a few, the conversation has changed – they just needed to see it for themselves.”

Rock the Boat: How floating festivals are ruling the waves

Other heavy metal cruises include 70,000 Tons of Metal and Wacken’s Full Metal Cruise.


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Rock the Boat: How floating festivals are ruling the waves

As IFF 2019 delegates heard in September, it’s been a mixed bag of a year for traditional music festivals, with many events struggling to repeat the highs of 2018 amid rising costs and increased difficulty booking talent.

Early indications from festival association Yourope suggest the market is “slightly down,” revealed Mikołaj Ziółkowski of Poland’s Open’er Festival, while FKP Scorpio’s Stephan Thanscheidt warned: “We’re steering into a dead-end street. We can’t raise ticket prices any more or we lose people.”

Even against this challenging backdrop, however, many events are going from strength to strength – especially those that have developed a strong identity and loyal fan base allowing them to sell tickets even when the vagaries of the touring cycle reduce the pool of available headliners.

But what if – instead of trying to compete with all those other events on land – festival operators took en masse to the water, putting on parties for an army of adventurous Captain Nemo types seeking adventure on the high seas?

As it turns out, a small but growing group of promoters are doing just that, and “it’s not a difficult sell,” says Anthony Diaz, CEO of Sixthman, the US-based granddaddy of music cruise operators, which made its mark in Europe this summer with festivals including Belle and Sebastian’s Boaty Weekender (a co-pro with AEG Presents) and the European debut of Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea.

“In the US music cruises are a very common format, and agencies know the value they add to their artists”

Star aboard
“It’s getting easier every day,” Diaz explains. “In the US [floating festivals are] a very common format, and agencies know the value they add to their artists. In Europe, when we started speaking to agents and managers two years ago, it was so new, but now that we’ve done a few, the conversation has changed – they just needed to see it for themselves.”

The appeal, says Iqbal Ameer, CEO of Singapore-based Livescape Group, which operates It’s the Ship (‘Asia’s largest festival at sea’), is that “unlike a landed festival, festivalgoers are able to enjoy various luxuries, such as comfortable cabins just steps away from the stages, 24-hour dining that serves warm food throughout the day and various ship facilities that add convenience to their festival experience, allowing them to focus fully on enjoying their time on board.

“Festivalgoers don’t have to worry about long lines for the restrooms, muddy grounds or having to drive back home. Shipmates can also choose to take naps in between sets and wake up at 3am to continue partying until sunrise.”

Jonathan Blackburn, whose UK-based Floating Festivals company is behind cruises such as ’80s festival Throwback and musical theatre event Stages, says he came across the music cruise model while supplying entertainers for events sailing out of Florida. “I was in and out of various offices in Miami and became aware of how popular themed cruising is in the US,” he explains, and was inspired to launch something similar in Europe.

“If you look at what kind of cruises there are now, there’s everything from music cruises to gay cruises to Bible cruises…”

Buoy bands
Although a “steep learning curve”, Floating Festivals has enjoyed steady growth over the past two years, buoyed by the increasing popularity of both floating festivals and cruises in general.

“The worldwide cruise market is increasing, too,” says Wolfgang Rott, head of press and marketing for leading metal cruise 70,000 Tons of Metal. “If you look at what kind of cruises there are now, there’s everything from music cruises to gay cruises to Bible cruises…”

Broadly speaking, Diaz says, music cruises can be divided into two models: the ‘host’ model, like Sixthman’s successful events with Kiss (the Kiss Kruise), Paramore (Parahoy!) and Kesha (Kesha’s Weird and Wonderful Rainbow Ride), and the ‘festival’ model, “not unlike Coachella or Glastonbury,” which feature upwards of 20 different artists.

With both formats, the majority of artists stay on the ship for the duration of the cruise, Diaz adds: for ‘festivals’ the figure is around 90%, while hosted events edge closer to 100%, with the recent Runaway to Paradise with Jon Bon Jovi cruise the sole outlier so far. “We experimented a bit with Jon,” he explains. “He’d come on and off and do signings, photos, play an acoustic set here and there, but he’d stay in a hotel in the Bahamas. It went well, but it doesn’t change our core model: bringing fans and bands together.”

“These aren’t standard cruises. These are three- or four-night party experiences”

Motley cruise
Also bringing fans and artists together is 70,000 Tons of Metal, a heavy metal cruise that sails from Florida to a Caribbean destination every January. Performers such as Cradle of Filth, Sabaton, Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, Meshuggah and Children of Bodom mingle with guests to an extent not seen on other cruises, according to Rott.

“You don’t have any backstage areas – everybody is just a regular customer,” he explains. “So you could go into the breakfast restaurant in the morning and see the guys from Nightwish or Testament, or in the evening see Fear Factory singing Abba on the karaoke… Once fans realise the artists aren’t going away – that they’re going to be on board the whole time and you can sit next to them in the bar or the jacuzzi, or play beer pong together – it takes away the pressure from the exchange. It’s a totally unique experience, and something you don’t really get at a landed festival.”

“These aren’t standard cruises,” continues Blackburn. “These are three- or four-night party experiences. You get all the advantages of being on a cruise but it’s a completely different experience, a really immersive one: you might walk into a lift and there’ll be a pianist in there playing your favourite song, or someone singing karaoke. We want people to go home with memories they’ll keep for a lifetime.”


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 86, or subscribe to the magazine here.

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Experience economy fuels resort festival rise

For decades, grassy and often muddy fields have been the setting for music festivals worldwide, but as the overall festival experience has crept ever higher on fans’ priority lists, different kinds of sites have begun to catch the eye of festival organisers.

From snowy slopes to golden sands, resorts offer the unique selling point and quality infrastructure desired by organisers, as well as appealing to the experiential tendencies of the millennial festivalgoer.

“People’s tastes have changed,” Gareth Cooper, CEO of Broadwick Live and director of Snowbombing festival tells IQ, adding that people in general “have more disposable income” and often view a festival as a “second holiday” nowadays.

Starting 21 years ago as an après-ski party, Snowbombing has evolved into a week-long live music event. The line-up for Snowbombing 2020, taking place from 13 to 18 April, includes Liam Gallagher, the Streets, Foals and Big Narstie.

Mainstage Festivals-promoted Snowboxx (6,000-cap.) also takes its inspiration from the traditional partying aspect of ski holidays.

“We all know that après is the real reason why people go skiing,” says Mainstage marketing manager Juan Lopez. “Sipping a cold one after a day on the slopes is the perfect way to unwind, but there is not much to do on the mountain after that.”

“People’s tastes have changed and they have more disposable income”

To counter that, Snowboxx has brought artists such as Basement Jaxx, Wilkinson and Craig David’s TS5 to Avoriaz in France for the past seven years, alongside a “jam-packed schedule of off-piste activities”. Acts confirmed for the 2020 edition, taking place from 21 to 18 March, include Andy C, Annie Mac, the Sugarhill Gang and Denis Sulta.

Anthony Diaz, CEO of cruise festival specialist Sixthman, agrees that the idea of a combined holiday and music festival is really “resonating” with fans.

In addition to its many “floating festivals”, Sixthman has recently experimented with seaside resort festivals, launching Kid Rock’s Flying High Island Jam and All the Best presented by John Prine at boutique resorts in the Dominican Republic, with further plans to replicate the model in European resorts.

“People are choosing to invest more and more in experiences, rather than in material things, including in immersive music experiences and in vacations,” Diaz tells IQ. “The combination of being on vacation with your musical heroes and with others that share that same passion, it’s unbeatable.”

Fans have also shown an eagerness to travel to new places for festivals in recent years, a fact that the Mainstage Festivals team is well aware of. The idea behind the promoter’s Kala festival, which takes place in Dhërmi, a beach resort on the Albanian Riviera, is to introduce festivalgoers to a holiday location they are unlikely to have visited before.

“The Kala crowd is looking for new experiences and new adventures, so somewhere as beautiful and off the beaten path as Albania ticks all the boxes for them,” says Lopez, who refers to Albania as “Europe’s best kept secret”.

“The combination of being on vacation with your musical heroes and with others that share that same passion, it’s unbeatable”

Since Kala started in 2017, there has been a 27% increase in foreign tourists to Albania and, although the event organisers cannot take “full credit” for that, Kala is now the “flagship event” for Albania. “It’s the country’s first and biggest overseas festival and we look forward to growing along with the broader tourism industry over there,” says Mainstage CEO Rob Tominey.

For the Mainstage boss, cooperation with tourist boards is an integral aspect to overseas festivals, “not only to promote the festivals, but also to showcase the local culture.”

Broadwick’s Snowbombing, which has taken place every April at Austria’s Mayrhofen ski resort since 2006, also collaborates closely with local tourism boards and tour operators, as well as the resort’s management.

“We turn what would traditionally be the quietest week of the season into one of the busiest,” explains Cooper. “It’s an end-of-season boost for the local economy and brings very good clientele to the resort – the kind who come to socialise and make use of bars and restaurants.”

However, a festival in a resort, by its very nature, costs more for the fan. Accommodation for five nights at Snowbombing is priced between £269 and £1,500, in addition to equipment hire, ski pass and transport to and from the festival.

“We could go cheaper and use a resort in France,” admits Cooper, but “that’s not the quality we’re looking for.”

It seems that cheap and cheerful is not what Snowbombing attendees are after either, with four-star hotels, complete with swimming pools and spas, proving the most popular accommodation choice.

“When you have the right destination, people just want to go”

Quality is key for Sixthman’s event too. Guests can choose between different suites at the resort, with all concerts, meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks included in the price, as well as unlimited use of the resort’s swimming pools and beaches.

Despite high-end prices, Sixthman does not attempt to tier pricing or up-sell fans with VIP packages or events. “All our guests are VIP,” says Diaz, which helps foment a “positive”, community-like feeling among fans.

Yet, for Mainstage, cheaper prices are one of the draws of its destination-based events.

“There are a number of benefits to attending a festival abroad vs in the UK,” says Tominey. “The costs can often be more favourable with cheaper ticket prices as well as cheaper costs while there.

Even at Snowboxx, the Mainstage team tries to keep the price low, “steering clear of all-inclusive deals” and negotiating with hotels.

“We’ve seen in the past how accommodation and transfer prices have spiked around destination festivals, after a few years of them being in the location,” says Tominey. The Snowboxx team offers seven-day accommodation and festival wristband packages for between £254 (three star) and £442 (five star).

The most important aspect of this new kind of festival, however, remains the same for all. As Cooper puts it: “When you have the right destination, people just want to go.”


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