For the past 170 years, state fairs have been bringing communities together to welcome the change of seasons; to celebrate livestock, arts and crafts; and to unify people in an environment of fun, food and entertainment.
But there’s a problem. Attendance is flat or declining in many states, and the base of loyal participants is shrinking.
The 11-day North Carolina State Fair, for example, attracted a record number of over one million people in 2010, but dropped below 930,000 last year. The old model isn’t working, and they’ve made big changes. They now have a Bollywood night, a West African folk band, gluten-free food, a llama costume contest and DJ-led light shows at night. The fair is now even targeting suburban office workers to attend.
The fair is still offering deep-fried Klondike bars, a Ferris wheel and animal exhibits, but by blending the old and the new, the tried and the true, fair organizers are keeping those that love tradition coming back while attracting a new generation of fairgoers who are looking for experiences that are more relevant and unique.
It’s not just about changing the ingredients and swapping out a traditional element; it’s about refreshing the recipe, making your event contemporary and remixing key elements in a new way. For example, state fairs are showcasing a core part of their fairs – agriculture – while modernizing the experience with craft beer displays and wine-tasting competitions.
Over 50% of North Carolina fairgoers are from outside the state. They are coming for the experience of a state fair, but they want more. They want to feel welcome, surprised, part of a tradition and part of the future.
The best events today are a hybrid of old and new – refreshing, renewing, reinventing and changing. It’s never too early or too late to step back and examine what a new generation of attendees at your event are looking for, and decide how to create a bigger tent that invites them in while keeping your best customers coming back.