The Value of Outdoor Events

Dr Caroline Jackson reveals the findings of a joint report on the impact of outdoor events by Bournemouth University and the Events Industry Forum.

The Value of Outdoor Events report was published at the end of October 2019 as a joint project by Bournemouth University and the Events Industry Forum (EIF).

The headline results, based upon a UK-wide representative population survey with 4,463 respondents, showed that you and your businesses were responsible for generating nearly £40 billion worth of income to UK PLC as part of the outdoor event sector in 2018. The research showed that outdoor events have been much undervalued for the contribution they make to the UK economy, both locally and nationally, with a gross value added (GVA) of over £30 billion, providing employment for some 589,000 people.

Steve Heap, chair of the EIF, commented on why the research project was commissioned. “Facts and figures are needed to help all of us make the right decisions. Local and national government need them to understand the socio-economic impact outdoor events have as well as to help make decisions on such things as licensing and transport. Organisers need them to make business decisions and to better understand the thinking of their audiences.”


Headline findings

The main findings of the study demonstrate the economic contribution that outdoor events made to the UK economy in 2018. There were 141.5 million visits, with a total on-site and off-site spend of £39.5bn. Using accepted multipliers, this means that the GVA contribution was £30.4bn, with a full-time equivalent employment of just under 600,000 people.

It is important to know how much outdoor events are worth to the economy because they support so many businesses and people’s employment, and this needs to be safeguarded and nurtured. It is also essential to understand their contribution to the fabric of our communities and to each of us personally.

Event economic contribution measures the GVA and employment that exists because of events. This treats events as a demand-side activity in a manner consistent with the treatment of tourism in tourism satellite accounting. All expenditures of visitors to (in this case, outdoor) events were accounted for, with the direct and indirect contributions to GVA and employment counted at each stage.

As you know, outdoor events come in all sizes and types. For this research project, outdoor events were defined as those events that:

• were predominantly outdoors
• made use of temporary structures, whether for cover or not
• planned/coordinated activities that were temporary in nature (did not last longer than a month)
• were public (i.e. not private weddings or meetings)
• were ‘special’ and not part of a programme of outdoor activities, such as weekly park runs.

Economic contribution by type of outdoor event
Economic contribution by type of outdoor event

The data collected provides information for five different types of event: outdoor music festival or concert; outdoor arts or cultural festival, show, fete, carnival or parade; outdoor fair, exhibition, trade show or rally; outdoor recreational and sporting event, tournament or regatta; outdoor corporate event. The following graphic displays what the overall figures were, distinguished by type of event. Outdoor music festivals and concerts made the greatest contribution in each area.


Not only was a UK-wide picture created but also attendance, spend, jobs and GVA by nation and English region:

• The contribution to each region varied by type of outdoor event attended and the spend. Music events therefore contributed most to each nation and region, except for the North West of England where recreational outdoor events contributed the most by spend per visit

• The largest region for outdoor event attendances was London, with 18 per cent of attendances and 21 per cent of total outdoor event spend

• Other regions of England add up, however, to make up the majority of outdoor event attendances (68 per cent) and spend (63 per cent)

• Spend per visit is highest in Northern Ireland (£354), Scotland (£348) and North West England (£338), and lowest in the East Midlands (£191), Wales (£212) and Yorkshire (£231). These differences are a combination of prices at the event, type of event and travel costs

• London has the highest number (25 per cent) of music event attendances in the UK and 34 per cent of corporate events. South East England has the highest number (15 per cent) of fair attendances.


Open air events are often thought of as just a summer months activity. The results of the research show that this is not necessarily the case, especially for events such as markets and fairs. The Christmas markets and festive light shows that have just been completed demonstrate this.

Number of event type visits per month (2018)
Number of event type visits per month (2018)

Lessons can be learnt from across the outdoor event sector and how seasonality can be overcome. The resilience of people and advancements in staging events have resulted in their ability to be offered all year round.


Outdoor events were seen as providing entertainment and an opportunity for all to engage with the particular form of activity at the event (e.g. music, art, physical activity or nature) as well as being important for the local economy. They were perceived to be a source of community spirit and pride, helping to create a positive image for the location and helping to safeguard heritage and traditions.

There are many reasons why people attend outdoor events and why they are important to them. These were measured using a number of Likert scale statements. When asked generally about outdoor events, people responded positively about their contribution.

People recognise the contribution that events offer and that they should be supported. There are however indications of unease about the potential for over commercialisation and offering good value for money that should be important factors in designing and pricing events.

Over 80 per cent of respondents said that outdoor events create a positive image for the community/destination where they are located and are important in providing local businesses with additional customers.


Read the full report and you will be able to obtain free information about the average spend by type of outdoor event, as identified for all outdoor events.

Items of expenditure (total £ million)
Items of expenditure (total £ million)

The research gathered enough data to be able to identify the value by five different types of outdoor events. The full report has sections on each of these and, for those supplying or providing a particular type of outdoor event, you can find information on the demographic characteristics of those who attended those events, along with details on expenditure items.

Demographic profile of attendees to outdoor music events
Demographic profile of attendees to outdoor music events


Demographic profile of attendees to outdoor fair events
Demographic profile of attendees to outdoor fair events

Compare here the demographic profile of those who attend music festivals and those who attend outdoor events in the fair category. There are differences in gender, age, ethnicity, geographical location and employment status. These could be seen as something to address and areas in which to focus event design and communication messages and channels.


The outdoor event sector covers a diversity of types of event for a variety of people and organisations. What brings them together are the challenges of being temporary in structure, as well as in time, and their openness to the vagaries of the weather. Overall people are satisfied with the events that they attend, which offer good quality content in creative and attractive sites that are well staffed, safe and secure.

The good news for the industry is that 84 per cent of those attendees were satisfied with the way events are run and the majority of interviewees felt that outdoor events were very important to them.

The only areas of concern, for a minority of people, are around the acknowledged issues of antisocial behaviour, congestion, waste and over commercialisation. Coping with weather conditions, given the nature of outdoor events, is also seen as an area that could be better managed. The problems identified are not necessarily of the outdoor event organiser’s doing but are ones that they have the challenge of managing.

Future Directions

The research, although a snapshot of a year, does indicate what this means for outdoor events for 2020 and beyond. These factors can be summarised as:

• Audiences will be increasingly demanding but also more socially and environmentally aware. Concern should be given to looking at diversity of audiences and content of events

• Creativity and innovation make experiences special and are valued. They have also extended the outdoor event season to an all-year round activity.

• Engagement and communication will continue to be important. Engaging more effectively with community stakeholders is imperative so events are seen for the benefit of the organisers, suppliers and attendees. The trends for going local and making good PR out of this is important

• Turning challenges into opportunities. As with the reaction to the negative environmental impact of leaving tents behind, campaigns to change people’s behaviour and encourage insights into potential negative reactions can work. Many of the sociocultural issues, such as antisocial behaviour, congestion and environmental impacts, reflect society in general but events can demonstrate how they are challenging these and can contribute to the wider agenda

• Economic pressures will continue, so efforts have to be made to use this research to extol the benefits of outdoor events. As austerity measures continue, with local government focusing on statutory requirements and venues on reducing costs, outdoor events will need to justify their existence and will need evidence to do this. Outdoor events are important to individuals and communities, as well as the national and local economy. These factors need to be celebrated and communicated more effectively

• Political support will become more important to ensure licensing and Safety Advisory Group success. Financial burdens of increased managerialism can be offset by demonstration of professionalism and empathetic management

• Technological advancement will be utilised to enhance experiences and manage outdoor events more safely and securely. The impression of attendees is that they are safe and secure at events but there is a lot of work being undertaken behind the scenes, from intelligence gathering and sharing to geo event tracking mechanisms.


The full research report is available free of charge on the Events Industry Forum website at


Dr Caroline JacksonDr Caroline Jackson, event educator and researcher, is the former head of department of Events and Leisure at Bournemouth University. Caroline has recently left academia to pursue her interests independently. Coming from an event background, she has always maintained her links with industry. This includes being elected as vice chair of the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP), 2016-2022. BVEP is the umbrella organisation that represents the UK’s leading trade and professional organisations, government agencies and other significant influencers in the business visits and events sector. Caroline was a founding member of the Association for Events Management Education, where she is on the executive committee, with positions as secretary and chair.

About Open Air Business 1380 Articles
The voice of outdoor hospitality - in print and online. If you liked this article, subscribe to the printed magazine here. We produce industry e-news between issues - please sign up here