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Festival Draw - Why NZ Should Focus On Creative Tourism

28 Sep 2023

Could the next big import be international festival-goers? A veteran of the festival circuit explains why now is the time to promote our uniquely Kiwi events to the world.

Written by

Rob W
Summer camping at AUM Festival. Photo: Nabulen.

Rob Warner is longtime DJ and advocate for the New Zealand nightlife and festival scenes. In his decades of attending and performing at events around Aotearoa, he's seen the untapped potential for festivals in this country to become more than just something to enjoy - to become the reason to bring tourists here in the first place.

He explains to The Big Idea.


It’s a little-known secret that New Zealand’s growing summer festival circuit is starting to garner a reputation around the world for being uniquely special.

The music and wellness festival phenomenon has spread rapidly in the last decade across Europe, North and South America and South East Asia - and after the world's borders were closed during the pandemic, the appetite to base travel plans around such events has only grown.

It's a growing tourism pull that New Zealand needs to take advantage of.

Beyond the more mainstream music events that most people know about - Aotearoa has a thriving independent festival calendar, spanning from music-focused through to wellness and transformational festivals that form the backbone of the festival circuit. Through summer, there are multi-day festivals almost every week, spread around the country with some breathtaking locations.

Increasingly, these festivals - which take the form of pop-up communities - are in the sights of younger adults escaping the Northern Hemisphere winter and people starting their OE or career abroad.

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The White Stag stage at AUM Festival. Photo: Nabulen.

With the overseas word-of-mouth rise in our independent summer festival circuit's standing - it can easily be taken to another level with an off-shore focused marketing campaign.

The summer festival experience should become part of the broader pitch for tourists - as well as people seeking a new location for their careers.

Aotearoa’s tourism relies on showing beautiful landscapes and scenery - which plays a role in attracting migrants as well. We compete for the attention of talented individuals with larger cities and countries which are perceived as more vibrant, as well as generally providing higher pay and lower living costs than you'd find in Auckland or Wellington. 

So why not showcase what makes us stand out?  The creative offerings and opportunities - including the festival circuit - are worth spotlighting.

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AUM Festival mainstage. Photo: Pavel Abumychev.

By any standards, what we offer here are world-class experiences. 

Compared to most festivals in Europe or North America, Aotearoa's are more affordable and accessible. Since they’re typically smaller, they feel like more personal, friendly community environments as well - not corporate creations. This has helped attract a steady growth of tickets sold to inbound tourists for a number of years now.

My experience is that overseas visitors fall in love with the more relaxed and welcoming camping setting of our festivals. The smaller size of most of New Zealand’s best summer festivals is a big plus for travellers - the big-small festivals (1500-4000 person range). They’re big enough to feel busy, but small enough that you’re not lost in corporate blandness.

While for many here, the concept of these festivals feeling corporate might sound foreign, just ask anyone who has ventured to similar events in other parts of the planet - it's easy to happen. That makes it a huge selling point for bringing festival tourists to our backyard. 

First-hand experience in the festival scene shows that each summer, thousands of overseas visitors go to them - with many hopping from one to the next in a festival tour around the country.

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Fire and flow performance at AUM Festival. Photo: Nabulen.

AUM New Year's Festival is an example of one such amazing community-vibe festival. Held in a quiet corner of South Head peninsula in Auckland each summer, thousands of people make it home for four days - enjoying the remoteness along with expansive music zones, circus and other performances, visual art projects, workshops and wellness activities.

AUM Festival has an international audience which reflects the growing appeal of Aotearoa for non-traditional experiences. Notably, experiences which cater to travellers in the 20-50 demographic and those scoping out the next options for career moves. There are dozens of other such festivals set for the upcoming Kiwi summer - Twisted Frequency, Shipwrecked, Taniwha’s Den, Kiwiburn, Earth Beat, Dimension to name but some.

Being at so many festivals each summer, I make a point of asking international visitors I meet who attend, volunteer or work at festivals around the country if New Zealand is what they imagined.

Whether they're on holiday, a working holiday or have moved here, the reply is always the same.

They're constantly impressed by the festivals - how safe and friendly they feel compared to elsewhere. Many have come for career moves but their impression is that New Zealand is a yet-to-be-discovered festival wonderland.

We've already seen the impact Lord of the Rings scenery and international marketing campaigns can have in bringing tourism to this country - showing off and promoting the incredible point of difference our home-grown, uniquely Kiwi festivals offer would open doors for a whole different market across the globe.

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