Illustration by balabolka/Shutterstock 

Sound Trek

The popularity of music history, live music events and music festivals is becoming far too large for the travel industry to ignore.

While certain industry players have long benefitted from promoting music tourism, specialists agree that the travel industry as a whole stands to grow those benefits if it can find ways to work more strategically with the music industry to create products and experiences.

"When we think about music tourism, the two industries aren't really talking to each other," said Shain Shapiro, CEO of Sound Diplomacy, a U.K.-based "global adviser on music cities and market development" that works with municipalities, developers and organizations to create live music action plans. "The tourism industry needs to involve the actual music industry more in the decisions that it makes and how it communicates."

Sound Diplomacy runs Music Cities Events, which hosts numerous conferences and other gatherings. This year it launched the Music Tourism Convention, the first dedicated trade event designed to bring the music and tourism industries together to discuss mutual goals. The first was held in Liverpool, England, in February, and the second will be held in Franklin, Tenn., near Nashville, on Sept. 21 and 22.

"We're hoping that people will recognize that this is a topic they will need to take seriously, because cities that do not invest in their music are losing heads in beds," Shapiro said. "Music is arguably the best tool to bring people together. If you get it right ... music tourism [is] a way to engage locals and visitors together in new experiences."


The music industry has been shifting its focus to the greater earning potential of live shows. The U.S. concert and event promotion industry is expected to generate $28 billion in revenue this year, according to the research firm IbisWorld, and is growing, in contrast to the plateauing sales of recorded music.  

The travel industry seems well positioned to capitalize on that trend. Travel companies that have opted to focus on music events are seeing their decision pay off handsomely.

Josh Payne is co-founder of Unity Travel, a 3-year-old company that creates packages around festivals. Unity Travel's clients are the festivals themselves, for which Unity contracts to be the official packager. According to Payne, festivals are working harder to court concert-goers who are traveling from farther afield because they are more likely to invest more money both inside and outside the venue and in turn become more valuable marketing vehicles when they return home and tout the experience to friends and family.

"People who are traveling spend a lot more money at their destination," Payne said. "Right off the bat, you have someone coming in who maybe is not familiar with the area. They're going to go back home and tell everyone what a great time they had. Winning that travel customer is worth about four to five times a regular customer."

The BottleRock Napa Valley festival has introduced a younger demographic to the city of Napa.
The BottleRock Napa Valley festival has introduced a younger demographic to the city of Napa.

Payne said his business has doubled its revenue each year since launch. In fact, revenue for the first quarter of this year matched revenue for all of 2016. 

Student and youth travel agency STA Travel has also recognized how important the live music and festival experience has become to travelers. It has developed three unique product and marketing initiatives devoted specifically to music travel: STA Travel Festivals, STA Travel Beats and STA Travel Sounds.

While STA Travel Festivals (packages built predominantly around music festivals in the U.K. and continental Europe) has been around for a number of years, STA Travel Sounds premiered in August 2015 as a platform to help travelers discover lesser-known local artists. STA Travel Beats was launched in August 2016 in partnership with Beats Travel as a series of tours featuring exclusive, more intimate music events.

Tor White, creative director of STA Travel, said, "Music as an experience and as a reason for or inspiring travel is becoming more and more popular. A festival can be a great entry point to a new destination. Big festivals are still key, but the increasing number of smaller interesting music and lifestyle festivals, combining arts, culture and wellness as well as music -- and in stunning locations -- show how music tourism is booming all around the world."

The Good Measure tour’s first live performance of 2017 featured musician Skylar Spence at New York’s Hotel 50 Bowery.
The Good Measure tour’s first live performance of 2017 featured musician Skylar Spence at New York’s Hotel 50 Bowery.

Having noticed that travelers are increasingly craving live music experiences, Two Roads Hospitality, which owns the Joie de Vivre Hotels brand, launched a Good Measure music tour in fall 2015, whereby the company's boutique hotel properties served as venues for local bands to play intimate sets for fans and hotel guests.

The company partnered with indie music event curator Noise Pop and kicked off a second Good Measure music tour at the Hotel 50 Bowery in New York on June 14 with additional tour stops at the Marker in San Francisco on Aug. 18 and the Troubadour in New Orleans on Sept. 14.

Jorge Trevino, executive vice president, brand operations, for Two Roads Hospitality, said, "We certainly see a rising trend in music-related travel and a growing focus on music programming at hotels."

Trevino said that Joie de Vivre was looking to create engaging and original marketing content and found that marketing tool through music.

"The tour not only brings free, live music performances to fans and our hotel guests, but it also serves as a platform for us to produce such dynamic content as Q&As with our featured bands and tour videos with the artists engaging in our hotel spaces," he said.

Those possibilities, Trevino said, "can be leveraged across our owned channels, our partners' channels and media."

Trevino added that in many instances, guests specifically travel to the company's hotels to engage in their music programming, whether it's a tour or the sundry other live music events the company hosts.

Music City USA

Among destinations that have benefitted from reputations as established and highly respected "music towns" -- places like Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans and Austin, Texas -- music has helped fuel a booming tourism economy.

What these successful music tourism destinations have shown is that fostering a thriving music scene ultimately feeds into improved tourism experiences in other areas, as well, such as dining and the arts, and vice versa.

"The greatest thing about Nashville is that it's such a creative community," said Deana Ivey, chief marketing officer for the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. "Collaboration is a big part of songwriting. You have this creative community that attracts more creatives, [like] chefs, fashion designers. It's been so interesting to see how we've been able to leverage that brand of music and creativity into all these other experiences."

For Nashville, the decision to fully embrace its music heritage and brand itself "Music City" in 2003 has paid off exponentially, not least because of all the notoriety the city has received for its growing reputation as a music mecca. Nashville welcomed more than 14 million travelers annually in 2016, 5.5 million of whom came specifically for the music, according to the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. That 14 million is up from 10.6 million visitors in 2011 and 9.6 million in 2006.  

Patrick Dallaire of Quebec mugs for his friends’ cameras at Sun Studio in Memphis.
Patrick Dallaire of Quebec mugs for his friends’ cameras at Sun Studio in Memphis.

Memphis, known for being the home of Elvis, Sun Records and Stax as well as the blues and rock 'n' roll, each year welcomes more than 11 million visitors from all over the world who pour approximately $3.2 billion into the city's economy. And according to research conducted by the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, 56% of domestic visitors and 70% of international visitors are coming for the music legends or for live music.

Regena Bearden, chief marketing officer of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, traced the roots of the city's music tourism boom to the opening to the public of Elvis Presley's home, Graceland, in 1982. Since then, Memphis has developed such music tourism attractions as Beale Street, its live music hot spot; the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum; Sun Studio; the Gibson guitar factory; and the Blues Hall of Fame.

And while the music tourism experience has clearly evolved in Memphis over the years, there is no denying that Graceland remains a cornerstone of that experience. Perhaps as a testament to the key roll it plays in generating local tourism, a 450-room resort, the Guesthouse at Graceland, opened in October, featuring its own in-house movie theater.

Graceland itself underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation to overhaul the Elvis attractions that are featured across the street from the mansion, including the performer's extensive vintage car collection, airplanes and other memorabilia.

Musicians performing on the streets of the French Quarter have long been a staple of the New Orleans experience.
Musicians performing on the streets of the French Quarter have long been a staple of the New Orleans experience.

New Orleans, too, gets a significant boost from its music scene. According to a 2016 visitor study, 42.8% of those surveyed responded that music was among the activities they participated in while visiting.
Kristian Sonnier, vice president of communications and public relations for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, "Music is synonymous with New Orleans, and we feature it as a reflection of the essence of New Orleans in almost everything we do."

Sonnier said the New Orleans CVB constantly incorporates music to promote the city, adding that almost every time the destination marketing organization hosts an event that is intended to reflect the essence of New Orleans, it includes musicians.

Embracing festivals

It's not just the legacy locales that stand to benefit from music tourism. For emerging destinations that see the potential of music tourism to stimulate demand, there are ways to foster viable music tourism assets a city might not have been known for in the past.

"Artists as creators, they always want to be part of something new and emerging," said Jason Swartz, founder of the entertainment company Alliance Talent, which represents touring musicians and festivals. "If [musicians] have the opportunity to bring the music they are known for [to a unique destination], they are going to jump on that."

Swartz said that one way for destinations to get on the music tourism map is with the help of a successful arts or music festival. From there, it's up to the destination to build in other experiences that ultimately make it "exciting year-round," such as monthly live music concerts and other culture and arts events.

While music festivals and the raucous concert-goers they attract don't always enjoy the best reputation, increasingly the travel industry is looking at ways that it can work with the growing number of music festivals around the world.

Shain Shapiro, CEO of Sound Diplomacy, speaks at the Music Tourism Convention.
Shain Shapiro, CEO of Sound Diplomacy, speaks at the Music Tourism Convention.

"Festivals are like building little towns," said Sound Diplomacy's Shapiro. "It's an infrastructure tool for places if they wish it to be. You build a town for three days. Why can't you utilize that infrastructure for more than three days? There needs to be greater dialogue between the tourism bodies, festivals and cities. It brings a lot of benefits, but there are lots of costs, and those costs have to be managed. But you can't ignore the benefits."

For example, the city of Napa, Calif., has found that the annual BottleRock Napa Valley, a food, wine and music festival that kicked off in 2013, has introduced the city to a new, younger demographic. That, combined with the renovation and revitalization of two live downtown venues, the Uptown Theatre and the Opera House, has helped transform the city's reputation from a sleepy town to a lively music and nightlife scene.

According to Clay Gregory, president of Visit Napa Valley, that shift in image also helped attract other businesses to the city, including notable restaurants, shopping venues and hotels.

"The thing that people were most unhappy about is that there was nothing to do after dinner," Gregory said. "And that is no longer the case."

The change in attitude toward live music and the opportunities it represents for the travel industry stand to ultimately enhance the experience for all involved.

Unity Travel's Payne said that if the travel industry were better informed about festivals in the planning stage, travel sellers could work to create improved capacity, adjust rates and cater to those festivals, rather than be caught off-guard.

"Some of these events get 30,000 people or more, and they're out in the middle of nowhere." Payne said. "Not only is it hard to get [there], sometimes the town doesn't even know what's going on. The owners of the hotels don't even know what happened." Payne said his goal for the festivals he partners with is to help bridge that gap.

In Shapiro's view, it should be a shared goal for the music and tourism industries to improve communication so their products are ultimately more aligned. Along those lines, he observed that destinations are increasingly looking at the types of consumers they can entice to visit through music and the kinds of travel products they can then build around that, including everything from hotel stays to food, beer and wine experiences.

Said Shapiro, "Now, slowly but surely, I think there's a growing interest in putting a little bit of a strategy around music."