Bringing in the crowds

Research to boost economic impact of summer and winter fairs

Visiting a summer or winter fair with your family is fun, but it's also big business for Manitoba municipalities. Rural fairs typically have a large economic impact on their communities, which makes it important to ensure they remain popular travel destinations.

That's why the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba recently commissioned research to find out what drove the crowds to Brandon for the Manitoba Summer Fair and the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair last year.

"The research helps fair organizers see who is coming, why they're coming and how they heard about it," says Thelma Blahey, rural leadership specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. "They want to do a fabulous job and to do that you need to make sure you are attracting people with what is proven to bring crowds back."

Using one-on-one interview style surveys with approximately 800 guests at the winter fair and 600 at the summer fair, the 2014 study asked why people go to fairs and what needs to be done to keep them coming back every year. Results show that more than 60 per cent of people visiting the winter fair attend on an annual basis. That number rises to more than 70 per cent for the summer fair.

Popular attractions

Horse shows, President's Choice SuperDogs, the petting zoo and carnival rides are top draws for Brandon's two big fairs, which together have a $12.7 million economic impact on the city, including 101 full-time jobs. More than half of all visitors to each fair are from communities at least 80 kilometres away. Interviewing them gave organizers much needed data to plan and promote the fairs in the future.

"We needed to know what we should be investing in and what we should be advertising," says Rena Stackhouse, marketing and communications coordinator with the Provincial Exhibition. "The other important part to that is determining how and where to advertise, so finding out where people hear about the fairs is important to us."

Education is a major draw

Aside from the rides and shows - education continues to be a major draw for both fairs. Many people visiting the winter fair last year said they attended in part to learn more about healthy eating and agricultural issues. Historically, the fair began as a means for farmers to get together and showcase their work with other farmers and the public. Today's fairs continue to focus on the strong agricultural roots of our province and act as an educational tool. This is something that is popular province-wide, and the research indicates that balancing entertainment and education should benefit most Manitoba fairs.

"A lot of people visiting the fairs have never been on a farm before. They might not know what kind of work goes into growing or producing the different products our province has to offer," said Stackhouse. "People leave with a better understanding and appreciation that they can take home to share with their friends and families."

According to research, which was made possible through funding from Growing Forward 2's Growing Actions program, traditional media still plays a large role in how communities in southwestern Manitoba learn about fairs - but social media is a growing influence as well.

Encouraging overnight family visits

Proper scheduling and advertising for the events is important especially for families visiting from out of town.

"We want to think about those who are travelling here specifically for the fair, we want to make it worth it for them to stay for more than one day," says Stackhouse.

She said this year's winter fair will have a family focus, with performances by Sharon and Bram on Wednesday and Franklin the Turtle and Friends on Thursday. This gives guests who stay overnight in Brandon a worthwhile experience.

Bringing in those families and guests from out of town is important for the fairs to receive continued funding from their sponsors.

"If we can show that we are providing an economic impact to the community then our sponsors are more likely to continue funding what's bringing those people here," says Stackhouse.