The Italian Week Festival: Creating the Fire That Never Becomes Ashes

 

Dr. Eliane Karsaklian - LARGEPA Sorbonne

Cav. Alessandro Sorbello – New Realm Media

 

International Journal of Business Strategy®, 17(1), 17-24.  DOI 

 

Abstract: The deepening of engagement from transactional to transformational can be attributed to the development of emotional engagement. For emotional engagement to occur, ‘Fest-Vibe’ is an essential ingredient and contributes to the long term success of festivals and events.  In this research we propose a model for the creation and utilisation of Fest-Vibe and explain the different elements leading to emotional engagement.

 

Keywords: Fest-Vibe, emotional engagement, contagion, festivals, culture, event, consumer behaviour, loyalty

 

1.      Introduction

 

"Is there any fire left or is it all ashes?" asked the Italian Consul General of Queensland, back in 2007, referring to the lack of unity within the Italian community in that Australian state. As a result, Italian Week was then launched as a strategy to project to all parts of the Italian community, a symbol which would resonate with the entire community as a means to develop unbiased community pride.

 

Ever since, the above mentioned festival’s mission has been to promote Italian culture in order to generate unity, pride and enjoyment within an all Italian environment. The festival is produced every year and welcomes thousands of visitors both with and without Italian roots. Italian Week meets its objectives of cohesion and celebration of Italian culture by strongly involving all attendees in the event. Italian Week keeps alive the flame of ‘Italianness’ in bringing Italians and non-Italians together thanks to emotional engagement.

 

According to Getz and Theobald (1995), festivals are described as themed, public celebrations, which celebrate an event or occasion within a community and have been created to provide a platform for people to share, rejoice, learn and celebrate shared pride. Festivals can be art forms and narratives, performances designed to entertain and enchant. They (festivals) can be a way that a story of a culture of community is recalled about themselves.

Although the impact of emotional engagement on consumption habits during and after festivals and customer retention has been demonstrated in previous research (Sorbello and Karsaklian, 2016b), to the best of our knowledge, no research has yet explained how to generate emotional engagement in a festival. Festival producers should first create a favourable environment to the creation of emotional engagement, which is the foundation of a successful event. Nevertheless, prior research has explained the concept of ‘Festivalscape’ as a comprehensive set of actions to be undertaken for a festival to be successful.

 

In this research we define success for a Festival as its ability to create residual effect (Sorbello and Karsaklian, 2016f)and attendees’ loyalty to the event (Sorbello and Karsaklian, 2016c). We argue that for a festival to be successful in these terms, festival goers should be emotionally engaged in the event. We add that ‘Festivalscape’ is not sufficient to generate such strong links between the festival and its attendees.  We state that the festival should provide visitors with more than a perfect organisation - there must be vibration. The festival should keep that flame alive and vibrating in order to attract and retain its visitors. Thereby, in this paper we introduce the concept of Fest-Vibe as being a necessary condition to create emotional engagement. 

 

We define the festival’s general feel, attitude and ambiance as ‘Fest-Vibe’. Fest-Vibe is what creates emotional contagion and sets the feel-good stage for festival-goers’ enjoyment. As a matter of fact, the Fest-Vibe creates an environment able to generate engagement from all participants through emotions.  Their interaction with the Fest-Vibe harmonizes their level of involvement with the festival and with the country it celebrates thanks to emotional engagement. 

 

2.      Literature Review

 

When studying Italian Week, a major festival in Australia (Sorbello and Karsaklian, 2016d), we identified the existence and need of the Fest-Vibe. By celebrating Italian culture thoroughly, Italian Week captivates all participants by their senses as well as by their reason. The emotional engagement created by the event has a transformational effect on participants’ behaviour as consumers and stimulates their willingness to continue experiencing the same emotions provided by the festival thanks to the consumption of related goods and services after the event is finished.

 

The relevance of Fest-Vibe resides on the willingness of undertaking sustainable relationship with attendees thanks to a transformational interaction between them and the event. Indeed, most relationships between attendees and festivals are just transactional, that is, the interaction is limited to the duration of the festival. It is characterised as ephemeral and caused by the lack of deeper engagement in the event which can only be created by emotions. Oppositely, when there is emotional engagement, the relationship between participants and the festival is deeper and extended beyond the duration of the festival thanks to stronger links created during the event thanks to the favourable environment created by the Fest-Vibe.

 

2.1 The pathway to Fest-Vibe

 

In festivals people look to satisfy both utilitarian and hedonic needs and motivations (Gursoy et al., 2006), although predominantly, people attend festivals for enjoyment. It appears that the hedonic dimension can be created by the symbolism that arouses emotions. The program, ambience, conditions, layout, entertainment, general location and a pleasant atmosphere positively affect emotions (Grappi and Montanari, 2011)

 

Of equal importance to complete consumer involvement in a festival is meeting the functional or utilitarian preconditions consumers expect and need for enjoyment  (Childers et al., 2002). An ambience which allows patrons to feel at ease and well cared for in a safe and natural environment, was also found to positively create an emotional engagement in the event (Lee et al., 2011)

Consistently and in search for a symmetry between attendees’ needs and the organisation of the event, the Fest-Vibe should respond to both utilitarian and hedonic criteria. Thereby, we can state that the Fest-Vibe is composed of two dimensions - one utilitarian and one hedonic - as explained below. 

 

2.1.1 Utilitarian Criteria 

 

These criteria relate to the underlying efforts in the organisation of the festival and are non-perceptible by attendees. Logistics, planning and organisation in general are part of this phase in which the event is pictured in its minimal details. An event can only be successful and financially rewarding if it meets accuracy in terms of forecast of both controllable and uncontrollable factors. Among the most relevant factors to meet utilitarian needs are:

 

2.1.1.1 Easy access to the festival – attendees might be very disappointed with the festival even prior to entering because of traffic issues. Not providing easy access to the event’s place not only demonstrates a lack of organisation but also prevents attendees from persevering to finally reach the event.

 

2.1.1.2 Accessible car parking – parking lots should be calculated in accordance with the expected number of visitors by integrating the ability to support marginal number of participants. Visitors to the festival can be demotivated to attend it if constrained to the time consuming task of searching for an available parking lot.

 

2.1.1.3 Accessibility for disabled persons – festival organisers should ensure accessibility of disabled visitors to all sectors of the event.

 

2.1.1.4 Basic facilities - basic facilities such as several and clean restrooms, automatic teller machines, clean picnic areas, just to name a few, are fundamental to create comfort to the visitors. The less effort visitors should provide, the more room will be left for them to thoroughly enjoy the experience.

 

2.1.1.5 Safe environment – attendees should feel safe and protected from robbery, violence, drunken behaviour, accidents and any other threats that could be linked to the event and under the responsibility of the festival organisers. It is fundamental that participants feel as being in a stress less environment, so that any concern can leave room for pleasure and enjoyment.

 

2.1.1.6 Waste management – the accumulation of waste in a festival grows every hour. It is imperative that waste bins are visible and accessible to visitors at the same time that they are far enough from the food stalls and activities’ areas.

 

2.1.1.7 Sense of flow – queues be set in the sense of a natural flow between entrance and exit sides enabling the services to flow smoothly and without delays.

 

2.1.1.8 Cost effectiveness – accountability is fundamental as festivals can be very costly and it is imperative that the organisers manage cost reduction without being detrimental to the event quality. Research should be conducted by festival organisers in order to identify activities with a low cost/high impact ratio.

 

2.2 Hedonic criteria

A festival should address the pleasure of all attendees’ senses. The hedonic criteria of the Fest-Vibe integrates all efforts made by the event organisers to please their visitors at a maximum level. In other words, the festival should be an invitation to experience something unique, special and tailor-made for them. In order to reach such objective, the festival organisers should take the following factors into account:

 

2.2.1 Ease in interacting with both festival personnel and other attendees – a festival is a place for socialization, enjoyment and experience. Interacting with other attendees is part of the experience as is interacting with the personnel. Closeness and friendliness are key in creating emotional engagement and willingness to spend considerable time in the event.  

 

2.2.2 Quality and variety of entertainment – entertaining attendees is a basic goal of any festival however the variety and the quality and relevance of activities to the festival’s theme are determinant in creating emotional engagement. The variety and quality of the food and beverages, of the performances as well as of products and brands add to the strong linkages created between participants and the festival.

 

2.2.3 Visual appeal – the settings of the festival should be visually appealing in order to transport festival goers from their daily lives to a totally new and unique environment in which they feel good, safe and well received. From the moment they reach the festival location, they should feel like entering a totally different universe from the one of their daily lives.

 

2.2.4 Sound appeal – the music, performances and other acoustic activities need to be engaging rather than intrusive. Music has the power of creating multiple scenarios depending on the songs and styles. By appealing to romanticized, dramatic or amusing themes, music creates the background for emotions to arise.

 

3.      Fest-Vibe as a necessary condition for emotional engagement

 

As stated before, Fest-Vibe is responsible for the creation of emotional engagement because it sets the framework that encapsulates the event. The outcomes of the festival are directly dependent on the Fest-Vibe. The more comprehensive and accurate it is, the higher the likelihood of creating emotional engagement and thus engage in a transformational interaction with attendees. Events not benefitting from the Fest-Vibe are likely to be limited to a transactional interaction with participants.

 

Indeed, participants’ to a festival are attracted by the promotion and marketing efforts made by the festival organisers in order to inform and lure attendees to the event. Among the tens of thousands of people attending the event more than one million people were exposed to the festival thanks to the illumination of major structures and buildings in Italian Colours in the lead up to the event.

 

Some participants might make a predominantly rational decision in clearly measuring the reasons why they think they should attend the festival while others might just feel affectively attracted to it without being able to rationally explain motivations to attend the festival. It had been found that the main motivations to attend Italian Week are either hedonic (people are in search of amusement) and of conformity (following friends and acquaintances) In other words and in accordance with Petty and Cacioppo (1986)Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), we can say that some participants are persuaded to attend the event via central route while others are convinced via peripheral route (Sorbello and Karsaklian, 2016e).

 

4.      Method

 

Our research was conducted with 1038 with participants of Italian Week who have attended the event from 1 to 5 years. In depth interviews were conducted with 32 people in order to unearth their ideas, opinions and emotions relating to Italy and the festival itself. This qualitative phase of the research was followed by a quantitative survey conducted with 1005 people.

 

5.      Findings

 

The first results obtained by the survey comfort the initiative of launching Italian Week in 2008 as 94.32% of the respondents said that the event has enhanced their appreciation for Queensland's multicultural diversity. The success of the event is also confirmed by 59.20% of the respondents stating that they were very satisfied with the event while 36.78% said that they were satisfied, mainly because they learnt about the culture (66.23% of the respondents) and discovered something new about the culture (33.77% of respondents).

 

However, it is mainly the qualitative phase of our study that demonstrated the transformation power of emotional engagement.  The quotes below demonstrate the impact of emotional engagement on attendees:

 

I would say that Italian week is just like being in Italy with a huge Italian family, being able to experience the food, the festivities and all the laughter, eating, culture that goes with it. Because it is a really enjoyable experience to share with friends and I love being part of such a great festival of food, wine, song, culture.

 

For me it means that regardless of where the people come from they just let down the barriers and converse and have fun with one another. It is bringing people and fun together and letting their inhibitions drop. And just learning about different people within the culture, even within their own community, regardless of where they come from.

 

I identify with it because I know it's Italian and everything about it is community fun and has a spirit. It's just something that is alive and that you want to be a part of. And for me wanting to be a part of it I will always encourage others to be a part of it.

I'm so passionate about telling it to other people. I've grown up in an Italian passionate culture even  though I'm Australian and so I tell people about the food, the fun that I've had over the years, the people that have inspired me to keep learning about Italy and the Italian product range that I use. So I inspire people based on my experiences and my journeys that I've had, through my life.

Well it’s a period of the year where there are a whole lot of events happening. Restaurants, cultural events, even entertainment like the ‘Waiters Race’ and things like that so for me it evokes memories of a period during the year where it's very busy but also very enjoyable.

 

 It is high-energy, lots of entertainment, associating with Italian people, getting a sense of that heritage that I grew up, and that my parents knew. I think it's good, I think it's nice to see the lights again that you associate the colours with Italy and the memories that something that we can be very proud of, that the place that designated as being Italian.

 

It's nice if you don't just go with your Italian friends of Italian background but you actually meet people that have fallen in love with Italy and it's really lovely seeing that part -- you know that connection that they've made and the love of Italy and Italian food even though their heritage is totally different. You actually see it through another person's eyes which is lovely because you actually get used to so many things about being Italian that's just part of you and then just actually see someone really appreciate that, that's lovely too. So we've actually made some friends over the years as well so it's good to catch up with them again.

 

Italian Week festival represents for me a special week of the year. It is a very nice environment full of happiness and of nice people each year.

 

  That is why even in other periods of the year is very easy to me to talk about the festival. Another thing is that Italian Week can be seen even as a good occasion to celebrate Italian Beauty in different way.

I'd love to attend the festival, again, just for the whole cultural experience, the social side, the change from the normal day to day activities in Brisbane.

 

 I enjoyed the entertainment, the experience as a whole just makes me want to be more engaged with the Italian culture, community, learn more about the country, experience more of the country that I already have just -- yes, it makes you feel sort of warm, there's just a warm cultural or family oriented people and I just love it.

 

 It's a special time of the year for me just has -- it gives me the opportunity to just submerge myself in that culture for a week, well not just for a week, but specifically for that week.

 

It brings back lots of good memories, yes, it just makes you want to you know, wait for the next year to come along. So you know I look at those images and I can see a lot of things that I recall, great memories.

 

 I think Italian week is one of the thing -- especially in Brisbane, to take part. It was very fantastic because it's like being in Italy, being in Australia. It's like to be involved in a big family. And so you can enjoy the actual activities. Learning Italian, teaching Italian, or social events so anything like that. And you can know a lot of people from different parts of Italy, or just people that like Italian culture. So I think that these kinds of events like the Italian week, are promoting -- promoting the past - are really important for the community -- the Italian community here. And all the people that are coming from Italy because you can understand, and how to integrate better in Australia.

 

The quotes above demonstrate the level of engagement created between Italian Week and its attendees and how much the experience was meaningful to them. They are willing to renew the experience every year and to bring other people along in order to share the Italian joy and emotions with them during the festival.  Not only are they loyal to the festival but they are also its ambassadors.

This relationship and strong emotional engagement would not have been created without a well-designed Fest-Vibe. The quotes below demonstrate the importance of Fest-Vibe in creating a favourable environment for emotional engagement to occur:

 

I think the sensationalism of the event certainly helped with that wow-factor which gave people that cultural focus but also the fact that you’re able to engage so many people in the excitement of that particular night and the cocktail party that went with it.  I think really it spread a sense of support from the local community whoever you had to approach to get the bridge lit up and I just felt incredibly excited.  I really did, it was something to see such a part of Brisbane life become so wonderful.  It was just great. 

 

 Abundance, passion, lots going on, fun, laughter, lots happening full on just like the Italians. Love it, it looks like there would be many things happening lots to go and see and experience, it makes me feel happy, curious, excited, I want to see it all.

 

 There is a great deal happening during Italian week, something for everyone and many different aspects are being showcased, you can see and experience the many different facets of Italy and Italian life, and what makes Italy so loved. Full on, packed with entertainment, culturally stimulating, a feast for all senses, stylish, classic, entertaining, eye catching.

 

 I would describe it as one big family festival where you are going to eat nice food, have a lot of laughs it’s going to be loud, there is going to be music playing, it’s going to be a high energy environment. So, be prepared to be swept up in that whole process.

 

 In the case for me, you get people who are perhaps Italians but born in Australia and perhaps not had a lot of that experience with Italian festivals so it gives them an understanding of the sort of culture that they have a part of but never experienced. And I think that it promotes the idea of Italians and what they represent to the broader community.

 

 I would say to other people that if they know anything about Italian culture and like Italian food then it's a great week to experience a whole lot of culture and food and just that energy because there are events happening all the time during that week.

 

So if you want to dine out you can go out every night of the week to different places, if you want some entertainment like cultural things the artists performing that have Italian themes, Italian backgrounds. So for me if you like Italy you like Italian culture if you like associating with Italians, then it’s great, it's a great time of year to get involved.

 

For me it's like a whole lot of events, so much that you cannot get to all of them. It's nice to have this variety where you can pick and choose the ones you want to go to and for Annie and I it will be orientated around dining. Dining with groups of Italians trying different restaurants that sort of thing and maybe some events in the Malls that's the stuff that's probably what we would do during Italian Week.

 

 Events that focus on the Italian culture and promote or some of them are -- can be interactive but it's an appreciation of the Italian culture be it through food, through music. There's a lot of social events as well and like you have art events and stuff too. So yeah, it's a real way, if you're Italian, connecting again with your background.  And if you're not Italian, really enjoying and experiencing Italian culture.

 

 Well, it is people having fun, enjoying themselves at an event with good food and good wine, they look like they're going to stay there all night because they're enjoying themselves and they're engaged with each other. It looks it was in a good spot, the way it was set out people can walk around, it looks like -- because there is music, there's entertainment, so -- as well as the food, they'd be entertained, there's a bit of space, there's even probably dance floor and the setting that gives it a really -- does give it an Italian feel. 

 

 It is a fun event, lots of Italian culture; so it's fun, entertaining. Yeah, so it's very cultural. You get a good understanding of it if you've never been to Italy what it might be like, what the Italian culture and people are like, you can experience food, different types of food, there's opportunity to see Italian films, discover the language, discover different parts of Italy. So if you do want to travel, things to do.

 It is part of all things Italian culture, just the atmosphere, the friendship, the socializing, and the acceptance, really.

 

6.      The Fest-Vibe Model

 

Based on the results of our research, we created the model depicted in Figure 1. It demonstrates that the difference between a transformational relationship and a transactional relationship between the attendees and the event resides on the existence of emotional engagement. The bifurcation represented in our model states that the difference between transformational and transactional behaviour is dependent on emotional engagement. Emotional engagement transforms attendees’ behaviour as consumers in extending the lapse of time they spend at the event and the consequent amount of their expenditures. The engagement and transformation together take attendees even a step further in motivating them to extend the Italian Week experience by continuing to consume Italian goods and services after the festival is finished, phenomenon that has been characterized as residual effect of the festival (Sorbello and Karsaklian, 2016a). The quotes below illustrate the actions taken by participants to extend the Italian Week experience:

 

After experiencing Italian Week I wanted to visit the Milano Opera house and learn Italian as well as plan a trip to Italy, hopefully to see the giro d’Italia. I am very keen now to making my own Pasta and attend cooking classes

Now i am motivated to watch Italian Films and eat Italian food, i am inspired to join up for an Italian cooking class and Visit the Italian Centre at Carina.

…listen to Andrea Bocelli & Eros Ramazotti 24/7 and make homemade pasta and visit Italy, and possibly live there for a while and learn how to cook Italian food by region!

 

In addition, the transformational relationship attendees develop with the festival stimulates their willingness to renew the experience at the festival’s next edition, which also explains the yearly growing number of participants from 2000 people in 2007 to 65,000 people in 2016. As a matter of fact, customer loyalty to Italian Week is not only represented by the same persons attending the festival every year, but also by their action as ambassadors of the event in bringing in new attendees.

 

As shown in our model, in the absence of emotional engagement, the relationship between attendees and the festival is limited to a business transaction restricted to the duration of the festival. The relationship between the festival and participants is limited to the duration of the event. Once the event is finished, the relationship is finished too. There is no residual effect because there is no willingness from attendees to extend the experience of the festival. The transactions done during the event are enough to satisfy these consumers who are motivated by amusement rather than by an experience.

 

We argue that the key factor to generate emotional engagement is the Fest-Vibe. Thanks to its two dimensions – utilitarian and hedonic – the Fest-Vibe creates the favourable environment for emotional engagement to occur. The technical organisation and the vibrant ambiance together created by the Fest-Vibe drag attendees to a unique, long lasting and unforgettable experience. Participants to Italian Week do not attend an event; they experience it. And such experience rests on emotional engagement, which in turn transforms participants’ relationship with the festival.

 

Figure 1 – The Fest-Vibe Model

 

 

 

 

7.      Managerial implications and limitations

 

As evidenced in our research and depicted in our model, Fest-Vibe is the assurance of a successful event management. Success, here is defined as the ability an event has to ensure residual effect and loyalty from attendees. It appears clearly in respondents’ quotes that the Fest-Vibe is the necessary condition to creating emotional engagement and that experiencing the festival is far different from attending it.

Thanks to Fest-Vibe and its consequent emotional engagement, the transformational nature of the interactions between participants to the event and the event personnel transforms participants’ behaviour as consumers. As a result, consumers look forward to renewing their experience with Italian Week every year and become ambassadors of the event. Moreover and in an attempt to extend their experience with the festival once it is finished, attendees increase their consumption of Italian goods and services.

The Fest-Vibe model can be applied to any event, might it be cultural or not. It is a guide to successful event management and lays down the foundations for any event for which a transformational relationship, rather than transactional, is desired or expected.

Our model is also applicable to other marketing fields such as brand management and consumer loyalty. Emotions linking consumers to brands and companies can also be transformational and lead to consumer loyalty.

Event organisers will benefit from this model as a template leading to a successful event. Although our research was conducted with only one event, Italian Week is a major event in Australia and our data collection was conducted across years and several editions of the same festival.

 

 

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SORBELLO, A. & KARSAKLIAN, E. 2016b. Everybody Wants To Be Italian: A Qualitative Study of Emotional Engagement Created by a Cultural Festival. International JOurnal of Business Research, 16, 49-62.

SORBELLO, A. & KARSAKLIAN, E. 2016c. Fun, Culture and Emotional Engagement Increases Sales: The Residual Effect of Italian Week in Australia. European Journal of Management Volume 16, 113-126.

SORBELLO, A. & KARSAKLIAN, E. 2016d. Grounded Theory and Emotional Engagement: What do we Learn From the Field? Review of Business Research, Volume 16, pp. 59-70.

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