How Coachella Could Help You Plan Better Events

Your association’s meetings and conferences may not have a lot in common with festival juggernaut Coachella, but there are still some lessons to be gleaned from it.

Today marks the start of the second—and final—weekend of Coachella, the music and arts festival held every year at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Last year, nearly 200,000 people attended, and it is considered a bit of a cultural phenomenon.

General admission tickets to see acts like Lady Gaga and Radiohead —priced at $399—sold out in three hours, and last year’s festival brought in a record-breaking $84 million.

But whether it sounds like something you’d enjoy or something you’d want to avoid, Coachella offers both ideas and lessons for meeting planners. Here are just a few:

Put sustainability first. Organizers say they are “committed to efforts that contribute to the betterment of the Coachella Valley,” and they’ve built features into the festival to help achieve their sustainability goals. One is “Carpoolchella,” which offers prizes to festivalgoers who arrive with four or more people in one vehicle. The grand prize winner takes home lifetime VIP passes to Coachella. Another is the Recycling Store, which gives attendees points for picking up bottles, cans, and cups. The points can then be turned in to purchase merch.

Know when to grow. When Coachella began in 1999, it was a two-day festival. In 2001 it became an annual event, and camping was introduced as an add-on option in 2003, creating another revenue stream. In 2007, a third day was added, and by 2012, organizers added a second weekend that sold out almost immediately. “These incremental changes show how Coachella event organizers are willing to grow the festival but also how they took steps to minimize the risk of overexpansion,” wrote Stephanie Thomas on the JNR Blog. “At any event, risks need to be taken to grow and improve, but they should be backed by research and trials.”

Offer unique experiences. You want your attendees to have an experience they won’t forget, right? Take some inspiration from Marriott. During this weekend’s festivities, attendees have a chance to go “glamping.” Marriott will offer eight fully decked-out and furnished luxury tents, all designed after the hotel’s top brands, including Aloft and Westin. However, guests can’t just book the tents like a regular room. Instead, they have to win the opportunity to stay in the rooms by bidding their Marriott or Starwood hotel loyalty reward points. Plus, winners get more than a cool place to sleep. The Experience Coachella package includes access to VIP viewing areas and hospitality tents, private bathrooms and showers, and golf cart shuttles.

Commit to your venue/location. Coachella gives a huge boost to the local economy, including cities like Palm Springs and LaQuinta. According to the Los Angeles Times, ticket sales alone bring in more than $3 million in tax revenue for Indio, accounting for 5 percent of the city’s general fund. But the location is just as important to organizers who want to deliver on attendees’ expectations. That’s why before the 2013 festival they announced that they would not only keep Coachella there through 2030 but also expand the event.

Get your attendees amped up about going. Just as exciting as securing a ticket to Coachella is watching the mailbox for the arrival of your wristband box, which tends to get more elaborate each year. For example, last year’s included a virtual reality (VR) headset that allowed people to watch interviews and performances from the Coachella archives.

As the video above shows, this year’s box featured a journal and a 3D “build a beast” kit. And when the recipient aims the Coachella VR App at the box, some cool stuff shows up, including videos and a countdown to the start of the festival. This element is definitely something to beat in terms of getting people excited about an upcoming event.

What other meeting-planning ideas can you take away from large music festivals like Coachella? Share yours in the comments.

(Steven Truong/Flickr)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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