Chapter 6. Events, Culture, Heritage, and Sport (Entertainment)

6.1 Festivals and Events

When travellers enter Canada, there is a good chance they will be asked at the border, “What is the nature of your trip?” Whether the answer is for business, leisure, or visiting friends and relatives, there’s a possibility that travellers will participate in some of the following activities (as listed in the Statistics Canada International Travel Survey):

  • Attend a festival or fair, or other cultural events
  • Visit a zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, historic site, national park, museum, or art gallery
  • Watch sports or participate in gaming

These activities fall under the realm of entertainment as it relates to tourism. Documenting every activity that could be on a tourist’s to-do list would be nearly impossible, for what one traveler would find entertaining, another may not. This chapter focuses on the major components of arts, entertainment, and attractions, including motion pictures, video exhibitions, and wineries; all activities listed under the North American Industry Classification System we learned about in Chapter 1.

Festival and Major Events Canada (FAME) released a report in 2019 detailing the economic impacts of the 17 largest festivals and events in Quebec, which amounted to a whopping $378 million in tourist spending. Let’s take a closer look at this segment of the sector and its impact across Canada.

Dozens of small, square lanterns arranged in winding rows light up the darkness.
Figure 6.1 A labyrinth of light at the 2008 Winter Solstice Lantern Festival in Vancouver.


The International Dictionary of Event Management defines a festival as a “public celebration that conveys, through a kaleidoscope of activities, certain meanings to participants and spectators” (Goldblatt, 2001, p. 78). Other definitions, including those used by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the European Union, highlight accessibility to the general public and short duration as key elements that define a festival.

Search “festivals in Canada” online and over 900 million results will appear. To define these activities in the context of tourism, we need to consider two fundamental questions, “Who are these activities aimed at?” and “Why are they being celebrated?”

The broad nature of festivals has lead to the development of classification types. For instance, funding for the federal government’s Building Communities through Arts and Heritage Program is available under three categories, depending on the type of festival:

  1. Local festivals funding is provided to local groups for recurring festivals that present the work of local artists, artisans, or historical performers.
  2. Community anniversaries funding is provided to local groups for non-recurring local events and capital projects that commemorate an anniversary of 100 years (or greater, in increments of 25 years).
  3. Legacy funding is provided to community-initiated capital projects that restore or transform event spaces and places. Eligible projects are those that commemorate a 100th anniversary (or greater, in increments of 25 years) of a significant local historical event or local historical personality.

Funds awarded in BC ranges from $2000 for the Nelson History Theatre Society’s Arts and Heritage Festival in 2012 (Government of Canada, 2014a) to $100,200 for the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2017 (Government of Canada, 2017). In 2017-2018, federal funding from the Canada Arts Presentation Fund, Canada Cultural Spaces Fund, and Canada Cultural Investment Fund resulted in $183 million in infrastructure and program development funds to support organizations that professionally present arts festivals or performing arts series (Government of Canada, 2019).

Spotlight On: International Festivals and Events Association

Founded in 1956 as the Festival Manager’s Association, the International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA) supports professionals who produce and support celebrations for the benefit of their communities. Membership is required to access many of their resources. For more information, visit the International Festivals and Events Association website.

Festivals and events in BC celebrate theatre, dance, film, crafts, visual arts, and more. Just a few examples are Bard on the Beach, Vancouver International Improv Festival, Cornucopia, and the Cowichan Wine and Culinary Festival.

Three people in semi-formal clothes hold wine glasses at a festival.
Figure 6.2 Guests at Cornucopia, Whistler’s celebration of food and wine.

Spotlight On: Cornucopia, Whistler’s Celebration of Wine and Food

For the “epicurious, cornucopia is food + drink unleashed.” Dubbed “so wild you can taste it” this 11-day event showcases tasting events, drink seminars, chef lunches and demos, avant-garde parties and more. For additional information, visit Cornucopia.


An event is a happening at a given place and time, usually of some importance, celebrating or commemorating a special occasion. To help broaden this simple definition, categories have been developed based on the scale of events. These categories, presented in Table 6.1, overlap and are not hard and fast, but help cover a range of events.

Table 6.1 Event types, characteristics, and examples
[Skip Table]
Event Type Characteristics Examples
Mega-event: those that yield high levels of tourism, media coverage, prestige, or economic impact for the host community or destination.
  • So large it affects economies
  • Gains global media coverage
  • Highly prestigious
  • Usually developed with a bidding process
  • Has major positive  and negative impacts
  • 1 million+ visits
  • Capital costs in excess of $500 million
  • Considered “must see”
  • Olympic Games/ Paralympic Games
  • Commonwealth Games
  • FIFA World Cup
  • World fairs and expositions
  • Economic summits
Special event: outside the normal activities of the sponsoring or organizing body.
  • One-time or infrequent
  • Specific ritual, presentation, performance, or celebration
  • Planned and created to mark a special occasion
  • National days and celebrations
  • Important civic occasions
  • Unique cultural performances
  • Royal weddings
  • Diamond jubilees
Hallmark event: possesses such significance in terms of tradition, attractiveness, quality or publicity, that it provides the host venue, community, or destination with a competitive  advantage.
  • Identified with the location or synonymous with place name
  • Gains widespread recognition/awareness
  • Creates a competitive tourism advantage
  • The Carnival of Brazil  (Rio de Janeiro)
  • Mardi Gras (New Orleans)
  • Oktoberfest (Munich)
Festival: (as defined above) public celebration that conveys, through a kaleidoscope of activities, certain meanings to participants and spectators.
  • Celebration and reaffirmation of community or culture
  • Artistic content
  • Religious or ritualistic
  • Music, dance, and drama are often featured
  • Lollapalooza
  • Junkanoo (Nassau, Bahamas)
Local community event: generated by and for locals; can be of interest to visitors, but tourists are not the main intended audience.
  • Involves the local population
  • A shared experience to their mutual benefit
  • Fundraisers
  • Picnics
  • Barbeques
Data source: Getz, 2005.

Events can be extremely complex projects, which is why, over time, the role of event planners has taken on greater importance. The development of education, training programs, and professional designations such as CMPs (Certified Meeting Planners), CSEP (Certified Special Events Professional), and CMM (Certificate in Meeting Management) has led to increased credibility in this business and demonstrates the importance of the sector to the economy. Furthermore, there are a variety of event management certifications and diplomas offered in BC that enable future event and festival planners to gain specific skills and knowledge within the sector.

Various tasks involved in event planning include:

  • Conceptualizing/theming
  • Logistics and planning
  • Human resource management
  • Security
  • Marketing and public relations
  • Budgeting and financial management
  • Sponsorship procurement
  • Management and evaluation

But events aren’t just for leisure visitors. In fact, the tourism industry has a long history of creating, hosting, and promoting events that draw business travelers. The next section explores meetings, conventions, and incentive travel, also known as MCIT.



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Introduction to Tourism and Hospitality in BC - 2nd Edition Copyright © 2015, 2020, 2021 by Morgan Westcott and Wendy Anderson, Eds is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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