Lights On Stratford sets the city aglow: record-breaking attendance at this year’s festival

The Lights On Stratford festival brought in more than 4,000 local and out-of-town visitors per day across the main light art displays this year for their shoulder-season attractions in the downtown core and throughout the city.

Lights On Stratford opened on Dec. 15, 2023, and ran for 18 days this year. Visitors were invited to experience firsthand all Stratford has to offer through light installations throughout the city, as well as other family-related activities such as public skating and the free hop-on-hop-off bus.

“Our team is excited and proud about what was accomplished this winter,” said Zac Gribble, Destination Stratford executive director and festival director for Lights On Stratford. “The community and patron feedback has been tremendously positive.”

The daily average attendance during Lights On shot up from just over 1,800 patrons last year to more than 4,200 people this year, all within a shorter festival.

“The average daily attendance more than doubled compared with last year,” said Gribble. “There was a significant overall ridership increase on Stratford Transit's free hop-on-hop-off shuttle bus service, which is really remarkable given that this winter’s festival had 18 production days versus 45 production days last year.”

Overall, the Dandelion exhibit was the most-popular attraction, bringing more than 915 people to Market Square. Space Island and the Light Wall installation were a close second.

This year’s free public skating saw over 200 visitors at the Alman Arena.

“In addition to the main lights exhibits, hosting free public-skate dates at the William Allman Arena, silent disco parties at LightWall, a Flash(light) Mob at Market Square, and live music pop-ups at multiple venues brought a whole new energy to the experience and to downtown,” said Gribble.

“Destination Stratford is a priceless tourism partner for the Stratford Perth Museum,” added museum general manager Kelly McIntosh. “We've never seen so many visitors in the shoulder season. We are happy to report that Lights On Stratford is responsible for generating over 50 per cent of the museum's seasonal holiday visitors.”

After the city’s tourism organization targeted Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Toronto through external marketing campaigns, 36 per cent of attendees were from within 20 km of Stratford, 48 per cent were from within 99 km of the city, and 16 per cent of visitors were from more than 100 km away.

As a result of poor weather conditions, closing weekend was impacted by a significant snowstorm with travel advisories in effect. This did cut down on local and out-of-town attendance, however Gribble is certain Lights On Stratford will not only help Stratford’s shoulder season travel but also build the community by giving locals a reason to come together during the cold, winter months.

“It takes a village to build a lights festival, and Stratford’s community absolutely came together to make it happen. Lights On Stratford continues to build momentum, and our team is already busy planning for a spectacular fifth-annual winter festival of lights to keep Stratford shining bright next winter,” he said.

Amanda Modaragamage, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Stratford Times