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Numbers going overseas for music events are soaring

Three thousand heavy metal fans disembarking from a cruise ship in Invergordon, imagine that, says Olaf Furniss, the founder of consultancy Music Tourist. Music cruises are one of the interesting growth areas of music tourism. There has been a boom; it is a real development of the last few years.

Furniss is referring to the phenomenon that was the seventh Full Metal Cruise touted as the biggest heavy metal cruise in Europe, with bands including Grave Digger and Rose Tattoo on board which pulled into Tyne and Invergordon last year.

More than 90bn audio streams were listened to by British music fans last year but Furnisss three-year-old consultancy, which focuses on closer collaboration between the music and tourism sectors, is one of a number of new businesses tapping into a growing generation of people who seek a musical experience that goes beyond a playlist. According to figures released by industry body UK Music last week in its report Music by Numbers, there were a record 11.2 million music tourists last year, defined as people who travelled from overseas or within the UK to get to events, and spent 2.8bn in doing so, a rise of 12% from 2017.

Olaf Furniss is the mastermind behind Full Metal Cruise. Photograph: Jannica Honey/The Guardian

Music is booming but the streaming revolution has also led to a sonic wallpaper situation with so many tracks out there all the time. Music is now a utility, like water out of a tap, says Mark Mulligan, managing director at media research firm MIDiA. Streaming is stripping group fandom out of music and fragmenting the listening experience. The reason the whole live sector is thriving, even as streaming has hurt CDs, is because there are super-enthusiastic fan bases wanting a passionate experience.

In October, music entertainment company Rebel Vision launched a nationwide tour of its cinema-meets-music experience screening of Havana Moon, the film of the Rolling Stoness concert in Cuba three years ago. The experience took a leaf out of the Secret Cinema model, which has themed events based on TV and film franchises including James Bond and Stranger Things, decking the venues out in a Cuban theme, from drinks to dancers.

It was a full concert production from set design, actors, food, the lot, says co-founder Tom Clark of the fledgling businesss first effort. It is like the link between the music market and the event cinema market. People were jumping around and screaming at a screen, which was surreal, but it happened.

Clark says he had been expecting mostly older, die-hard Rolling Stones fans but was surprised at how many attendees were young. Some didnt realise that some of the songs played were even by the Rolling Stones, or know the words to some of their biggest hits. It touches a curiosity in fans, he says. Some maybe want to revisit a concert, or wish they had been there, and some are just a bunch of mates wanting to try something new, he says. They are certainly willing to pay: ticket prices ranged from 35 to a 115 VIP package, including front-row seats and official, exclusive merchandise from the company the Rolling Stones use.

Live performances and experiences are like a scarce commodity in a streaming world and premium prices can be charged, says Mulligan.

A fan next to the life-size bronze statue of AC/DCs Bon Scott in Kirriemuir. Photograph: Jannica Honey/The Guardian

While going to concerts remained the biggest sector of the live music market, the report says, with 24.9 million fans doing so last year, attendance remained flat. Festivals are the big growth market with attendance soaring 23% last year to 4.9 million even without Glastonbury.

Furniss puts the proliferation and popularity of festivals down to a generational change in mindset, with younger music fans keen to go beyond the fewer established events their elders may have stuck to. There has been huge growth in travelling to music festivals, he says. Millennials are much more likely to try new music and festivals and events. People are also factoring their holidays around music events, like cruises and festivals.

Scotland is experiencing the biggest surge in music tourism, up 38% in 2018, while London remains the most popular destination, attracting 2.8 million fans.

With a background in music trade journalism Furniss once worked at Music Week he was early to explore the potential to marry music with business by setting up an annual convention in Edinburgh, called Wide Days, in 2010. It had its biggest attendance with 360 delegates this year. Perks of attending include a music-themed walking tour of Edinburgh, led by Furniss. Im a member of the Scottish Tour Guides Association, he says. Ive always had a foot in both the music and tourism camps.

Furniss says that music tourism comes in all shapes and sizes beyond the typical idea of live music and festivals. He points to AC/DC fans raising 45,000 to erect a statue of the bands late lead singer Bon Scott in his Scottish hometown of Kirriemuir in 2016. When it was unveiled, it became a hugely popular visitor attraction, alongside the annual Bonfest, he says. There has been growth in areas, including music retreats, and record shops are also surprisingly big with tourists, it is not just the locals sustaining them, he says.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/nov/24/music-tourism-numbers-of-fans-travelling-abroad-soaring