Previous research from WYSE Travel Confederation has underlined the growing importance of events, and particularly music festivals, in generating youth travel. The New Horizons IV research conducted in 2017 by WYSE Travel confederation indicated that there were around 23 million youth festival travellers, spending over 5 billion euros. Festivals and the cities that usually host them have also adjusted to the growing popularity, and the Financial Times noted “a shift in the festival ecosystem, with a marked rise in the number of city-based and one-day events and a decline in traditional camping weekends.”
Of course, this demand was suddenly put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020. As Covid receded, festivals and other live events roared back with a vengeance. There are more events than ever being staged in 2023, and young people in particular are keen to get back to the experience of live music.
Recent reports show the extent of the rebound. In the Netherlands, for example, the number of festivals held in 2022 was already 10% more than in 2019, and the total number of festival visitors was close to the previous record. Part of this rebound was accounted for by events that had been postponed from previous years, but the general indications are of a rapid recovery.
The recovery will almost certainly be led by Generation Z. Data from Mintel indicate that around 41% of UK adults are planning to attend a music festival in the next 12 months, but this rises to 48% for Millennials, and 58% for Generation Z. Similar findings are reported by Student Beans, who found that 44% of Gen Z from the UK and 41% from the US expect to spend money on entertainment this summer.
There is a clear desire to get back to live events and to experience social interaction with friends and peers. The main motivation for Generation Z was ‘hanging out with friends’, in both the UK (43%) and the US (50%). This also represents a change from previous generations of young people, who have tended to view festivals as spaces to party, usually fuelled by alcohol and drugs. However, Student Beans indicate that only 27% of Generation Z respondents from the UK and just 17% from the US plan on consuming alcohol and/or drugs at a festival this year. Other research in the UK provides more ambiguous evidence on the role of Generation Z as the ‘moderation generation’, as more than half are still consuming alcohol at events.
The desire to attend festivals again is translating into a growing volume of domestic and international music tourism. UK Music reported that there were 13.3 million domestic music tourists and 1.1 million international music tourists in the UK in 2022. Music tourists also made up a large proportion of the total UK music festival audience of 6.5 million in 2022. The average spend per music tourist (including concerts and festivals) was around EUR 200 in 2022, with most festival visitors spending far more than this.
The price of festival tickets has been a big talking point since Covid, particularly as resellers have pushed prices even further into the stratosphere. In the Netherlands, Finland and the UK most major pop festivals increased their prices ahead of inflation in 2023. Glastonbury has probably recouped some of the revenue lost through three cancelled editions with a gigantic 26% price rise (even higher in Euro terms!).
In spite of these price rises, some of the biggest festivals sold out within half an hour. Lowlands sold out within 15 minutes. Perhaps not surprisingly given these price hikes, research by Student Beans indicated that 86% of respondents said they would attend events more often if there were more student discounts offered.
In spite of the digital shift seen during the pandemic, young people are keen to get back to live experiences. 89% of Generation Z consider enjoying the actual experience more important than collecting images to post on social media. The motivations for Generation Z also seem to be slightly different from their predecessors. Festival attendance is at least partly driven by activism, and many are attending events focused on raising awareness of political, environmental and social issues.
This year, Roskilde Festival is supporting research by the University of Brighton into the pro-environmental benefits of green-field music festivals and whether they can stimulate ecological behaviour change in the Generation Z demographic. The research will also consider what additional stimuli (either actual of virtual) could be added to the individual festival experience in order to increase or enhance their pro-environmental impact.
Festivals are therefore making more active efforts to attract the Generation Z audience. The Parklife Festival in Manchester has boosted its audience from 20,000 attendees a day to over 80,000, largely due to Instagram marketing aimed at younger festival-goers. Festivals are also homing in on TikTok as a marketing medium, with Generation Z consuming over an hour of video content a day in 2020. Research indicates that 91% of Generation Z prefer video over other marketing formats. High video consumption seems to have little effect on the desire to consume live experiences, however. Research by Livestream indicates that 30% of people who watch a livestream of an event will attend the same event in person the following year.
The social media platforms are also making use of the strong connection between live events and streaming, with TikTok sponsoring the Official Virtual Stage of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for 2023. The platform provides live streaming from the Fringe as well as news and behind the scenes content. This aligns with TikTok’s role of developing “hyper-personal spaces, where people can explore their passions and live their lives.” This approach appeals particularly to Generation Z: 63% of those viewing the hashtag ‘vacation’ on TikTok in the last 12 months were aged between 18 and 24.
The power of TikTok to generate demand for tourism experiences is underlined by the appearance of “TikTok Queues” in cities such as Amsterdam, with crowds of young people being attracted by content posted on the platform.
Hall, I. (2023) Gen Z Events: The Generation Redefining Festival Culture
WYSE Travel Confederation (2018) New Horizons IV: A global study of the youth and student traveller
Prof. Greg Richards,
Professor of Placemaking and Events
Breda University of Applied Sciences