Renfrew festivals attract huge crowds with no losses reported

Renfrew – When planning began for the return of Renfrew’s two major outdoor events (Bluegrass Festival and the Craft Beef Festival) there were some concerns that committing town staff and resources in the immediate post-COVID environment could be a losing proposition because of projected low attendance figures as not everyone was ready to go to large venue events.

However, those fears were put to rest when town clerk, Victoria Charbonneau, informed council last week that not only did attendance figures surpass initial expectations, but both festivals were revenue neutral and did not have a negative impact on the town’s finances.

“We know that many festivals lost money this year due to low attendance but I am happy to report that our festivals did not lose any money and we broke even when you consider how others made out this year,” she said.

Although both festivals were in their third year, this was actually the first time they were held following a two-year hiatus due to COVID, Ms. Charbonneau informed council.

“What we found through various surveys is that people were excited to come back to outdoor festivals again and many said they would be back next year,” she added.

She listed some statistics for the Bluegrass Festival held in July and among the most impressive was how well Renfrew did compared to similar music festivals held throughout the summer.

“All festivals and events in 2022 have reported lower ticket sales and attendance,” she said. “However, Renfrew's 2022 Bluegrass Festival demonstrated how eager everyone is for events such as this. We had more than 356 campers on site who had a great time and for the town, they spent approximately $79,072 over the four days. Organizers, musicians and attendees have all expressed their excitement to attend our 2023 Festival.”

Drawing on provincial tourism statistics, local visitors spent on average $3,600 while attending and they represented 45 percent of attendees. Close to 50 percent of attendees come from all parts of the province and while here, they spent over $70,000. There were also out-of-province visitors who represented 3.4 percent of the crowd and international visitors made up the remaining 2.4 percent of all attendees.

“We are excited about next year and we anticipate growing the festival by 15 percent,” Ms. Charbonneau said. “We are setting that 15 percent as a very conservative estimate as we are still in the post-COVID world so we are being very cautious and conservative in our planning.”

The Renfrew Craft Beer & Food Truck Festival picked up where it left off when it was last held in 2019 by continuing the trend of increased attendance year-after-year.

“The beer and craft festival was an overwhelming success and the streets of downtown Renfrew were filled with happy festival-goers and it seems everyone had a great time. Similar to the Bluegrass event, there were no major problems,” she reported. “Our attendance grew by 19.3 percent and everyone was just happy to be outside and having fun again.”

Similar to her earlier report, she highlighted the benefits of the festival. Approximately $118,000 was spent by the same-day tourists. That represented 97.6 percent of the visitors to Low Square who travelled less than 40 km. An additional $10,176 was spent by the remaining visitors.

She said most of the 10 local beer companies, along with the three food vendors, indicated they would return in 2023 and she remarked the downtown beer festival has gained a reputation as a mainstay for promoting the town.

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader