High energy costs and inflated hotel rates have experts predicting a flat travel season this summer. But there's one big reason to get on the road anyway--or should we say 300,000 reasons? That's the estimated number of festivals that take place worldwide each summer.
For performing arts buffs, there's the Spoleto Festival, a two-and-a-half week extravaganza in Charleston, S.C., that features opera, jazz and even a circus ensemble. Rowing fanatics will head to the Henley Royal Regatta in England, where throngs of high-class Brits cluster to drink Pimms cups and watch two-lane boat races. Dubai's ten themed weeks of Summer Surprises feature everything from intricate ice sculptures during Ice Surprise week to gourmet culinary creations during Food Surprise week.
And don't forget Evil Knievel Days, an annual festival held in Butte, Mont., the hometown of the daredevil motorcyclist, or the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which has been held every summer in Gilroy, Calif., for almost a quarter-century.
Summer is a particularly apt time for outdoor celebrations--the weather is nicer, and competition for tourists is at its toughest. With the official start of summer just under a month away, Forbes.com took the chance to compile a guide to some of the best summer festivals and sporting events.
Festivals can be a good, economic way to entertain the whole family--some, like the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival in Maine, have free admission and offer a day's worth of distraction with reasonably priced food and attractions. Others can be pricey (especially if hotels raise their prices for the busy period) but provide access to world-class performances or events that couldn't be seen any other way. We included sporting events on our list as well, which aren't traditional "festivals," but they are certainly entertaining outdoor celebrations in their own right.
Many of the celebrations on our list, like the Henley regatta or Italy's notorious horse race, the Siena Palio, grew organically, have been around for decades and are popular international events. In other cases, festivals have been ginned up to draw traffic to smaller towns. Not that it means they're any less enjoyable.
"Festivals tend to be the calling cards for the communities they celebrate," says Steve Schmader, president of the International Festivals and Events Association, based in Boise, Idaho. "They run the gamut, from giant music festivals like Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisc., to the Sequim Irrigation Festival in Sequim, Wash., or the Gnat Days Festival in Camilla, Georgia. They take things that are not necessarily seen as popular, and they have fun with it." In these cases, festivals are a big-scale way of turning lemons into lemonade--and then setting up a giant lemonade stand.
Annually, IFEA's 3,000 members alone generate $25 billion in festival proceeds, and an estimated 1 million outdoor festivals, celebrations and sporting events around the world bring in hundreds of billions of dollars more, according to IFEA. Whether it's through major corporate sponsorships (like the breath-freshener brands that sponsor kissing events at the Garlic Festival), hotel room revenue or townspeople selling homemade pies, quilts or vegetables, "festivals and events are the best tools available for attracting tourism and developing economic impact" in a particular region, Schmader says.
And that's a good thing, whether it's in the name of Shakespeare, crew or even gnats.