Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Travel & Tourism

Tulip Time’s take hits $12.9 million

Organizers of Dutch festival say the 2015 event drew 180,000 people to Holland.

September 18, 2015
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A lakeshore community tiptoed through the tulips in 2015 to generate roughly $12.9 million in economic activity during its 86th annual festival.

Tulip Time Festival Inc., a nonprofit organization headquartered at 74 W. 8th St., Holland, last week released the results of a study, Tulip Time 2015: Economic Impact and Attendee Profile, which indicated the eight-day Dutch festival drew more than 180,000 visitors, resulting in more than 310,000 attendee-days and  generated approximately $12.9 million in new economic activity in the Holland area.

The results of the first comprehensive study analyzing the economic benefits from the Tulip Time Festival were officially announced Sept. 18. The study was prepared by East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group and included a detailed summary of attendee demographics, total event attendance and spending, and overall economic impact of the festival.

Funding for the project was supported by the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce and the Tulip Time organization.

Gwen Auwerda, executive director of Tulip Time Festival Inc., said the two most significant findings were the $12.9 million estimate of economic activity and that nearly 69 percent of visitors represent a pre-retirement demographic.

“We had estimated internally it was around $10 million, but we really had no data or process to confirm it. We were happy and pleased it was higher than what we had thought,” said Auwerda.

“We have very strategically tried to look at programming and activities to draw a younger generation, and with the survey result, it tells us we are going in the right direction.”

The profile indicated Tulip Time attendee spending reached more than $12 million and the impact of the organizational spending was more than $700,000. Spending from festival attendees generated roughly $1.5 million in new earnings for households in the Holland area.

The economic activity also created 79 employment positions during the organization’s fiscal year, including 63 jobs due to attendee spending and nearly 16 jobs due to organizational spending.

Scott Lubbers, community president for Holland at Fifth Third Bank, said the festival has a tremendous impact on the community for both individuals and businesses.

“Fifth Third Bank has partnered with Tulip Time for over 50 years,” said Lubbers. “We recognize how closely our success is linked to the strength and vitality of the larger community and we applaud Tulip Time for organizing this annual celebration that directly benefits this great place where we work, live and play.”

Of the estimated 500,000 attendees, roughly 66 percent indicated they had visited Holland before or plan to visit again in the future, according to Auwerda.

“To me, it is a big part of tourism. We live in a great place to work, live and play in the broader region, not just in Holland,” said Auwerda. “It is just a cornerstone of this community where the community comes together for a week to look at all the great things we have, the things we do, the local arts and cultural organizations that provide entertainment, and we are able to show the world all those great things we have happening.”

Tulip Time launched in 1929 as a day-long celebration of the city’s Dutch heritage and showcased roughly 250,000 tulips imported from the Netherlands, according to the report. Since the inaugural celebration, the festival has grown to more than a week-long event with a traditional street scrubbing, Dutch dances, multiple parades, nearly 4.5 million tulips, a carnival and fireworks.

The economic impact report also provided an overview of attendee demographics, indicating more than 18 percent of visitors to the festival were from the Holland area, roughly 44 percent traveled from elsewhere in Michigan, and nearly 38 percent were from outside the state.

Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, which is part of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said the festival is a great example of how major events can drive travel to Michigan, promote unique cultural experiences and provide important economic benefits to communities.

“It takes a tremendous effort by the staff, local businesses and volunteers to put on an event of the caliber of Tulip Time,” said Lorenz. “The impact of this hard work and hospitality can be seen in the high number of visitors planning to return to Tulip Time and the region.”

Specific demographics of attendees showed the average age was 51, household income was nearly $78,000, nearly 26 percent had a bachelor’s degree and another 25 percent had earned a graduate or doctorate degree, according to the report.

Based on the results, Auwerda said the attendee profile validated the organization’s perception of its target market.

“The people coming have the disposable income to spend, travel and do things. We really thought that was the case, and it was nice to have a validation of that information,” said Auwerda. “It helps us with our target marketing, knowing what magazines to market in, what states to market in, and we know from all the ticket sales we have representation from all 50 states.”

The Anderson Economic Group leveraged data compiled from two surveys. As an un-gated event spread throughout downtown Holland, the report indicated it is “difficult to measure attendance at any point in time, let alone over the course of the entire event.”

The group used reported ticket purchase data from the few ticketed events, participant data, and event revenue and expense data from Tulip Time Festival Inc. to estimate the overall economic impact.

“That was the largest challenge because when you look at what events people come to attend, the top four events are all free. Aside from trying to count every person on every street corner for 50 Dutch dance performances, which is not feasible, it is a real challenge to figure out what those numbers are,” said Auwerda. “It is still an estimate because we can’t capture it; it is similar to ArtPrize, you can’t capture how many people are in town.”

Tulip Time Festival Inc. decided to commission the first comprehensive report to identify valuable information for the organization in terms of internal planning and programming for the next five years, and their community partners enrolled in the sponsorship program, according to Auwerda.

Operating as a 501(c)(3) organization, Tulip Time Festival Inc. is funded primarily through ticketed event revenues, sponsorship dollars and merchandise sales. Roughly 69 percent of festival spending is allocated directly to programming, which includes both ticketed and free events.

Tulip Time Festival Inc. gave more than $89,000 to its community partners in 2015, which include local art and culture organizations, food and beverage-related services, festival ambassadors, church groups and various ministries.

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