Jazz Fest aims to attract tourists

The Cayman Jazz Fest, which begins this Thursday, is one avenue being used by the Department of Tourism to try to spike tourism figures during off-season.

‘We’re known for good music and we’re known for good food so we can marry the two and reach our demographic,’ explained Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott.

He explained that staying true to smooth jazz is important for the festival because smooth jazz appeals to the Cayman Islands visitor demographic, which is a household income of more than $100,000 and aged between 30 and 64 years old.

Not only live music is on show at the Jazz Fest, but the large Pageant Beach facility being used on Friday and Saturday nights allows for local food and culture to also take the stage.

This year local food will be on sale, giving visitors and residents alike a taste of local tradition and culture during the Jazz Fest.

Liberty’s, Seymour’s Jerk Chicken and Cayman Traditional Arts will all provide tasty local dishes for sale, while local artisans will also have the chance to demonstrate and sell their wares, such as thatch-making and Caymanite sculptures. An old Caymanian caboose will also be on display for all to see.

Thursday night’s kick-off, which takes place in the Governor’s Ballroom in the Westin Casuarina Resort, is limited to 600 tickets in order to keep the intimate feel of the venue.

The Friday and Saturday night at Pageant Beach have 5,000 available tickets each, with the capacity for more if need be.

Ticket sales are beginning to pick up just now, explained Mr. Scott. This is typical of the past three years of the Jazz Fest. ‘It seems to be a trend locally that everyone buys their tickets about a week and a half out,’ he said. He did not have current ticket sale figures on hand by press time.

Another trend has been people waiting to buy their tickets at the gate, something he says DoT does not recommend. Pre-sold tickets for Friday and Saturday evenings cost $45 each while at the gate they cost $50. On Thursday night tickets cost $75 and need to be purchased in advance to avoid disappointment as last year the first night sold out.

Last year 250 packages were sold for Cayman Jazz Fest. This involves tourists getting their jazz fest tickets, hotel tickets and airfare in a package to come here.

‘Last week we surpassed that number,’ he said.

Although most people bought packages in the past, the most recent trend is for visitors to buy their Jazz Fest tickets and then buy their airfare and hotels separately based on their own online research.

The two host hotels, the Westin Casuarina Resort and the Courtyard Marriott are seeing steady bookings, Mr. Scott said.

Last year these two hotels were fully booked up, and at a time of year when full occupancy would not be normal. It was a direct result of the Jazz Fest, he explained.

‘Our primary goal is to put on an event in the off season to bring tourists in,’ he said. ‘It falls right after Thanksgiving and before Christmas so it acts as another event to bring tourists here when they usually wouldn’t come.’

Although a profit has not been made on Jazz Fest in the past two years, Mr. Scott asserts that the value of the festival cannot be measured by that. The Cayman Jazz Fest costs around US$500,000 to put on each year and generally about a quarter of this has been recouped, Mr. Scott said.

Sponsors such as Cable & Wireless, Britcay, the Westin and the Courtyard Marriott have also proved invaluable to the festival, and as it grows it is hoped more will come on board, Mr. Scott said.

And although in two to three years DoT hopes to be breaking even on it, the success of a Jazz Fest is measured in a different way, he explained.

‘The success is seeing the extra visitors come and the spill over into the economy from that, along with the coverage given in the BET preview and postview shows and all the media coverage from visiting journalists.’

Mr. Scott noted that the benchmark for all jazz fests is St. Lucia’s and the benefit of it is the injection into the economy outside of the budget the Tourism Board puts into it.

The festival boosts visitor arrivals, raises awareness of the destination, provides exposure for local artists, and brings in business for tourist accommodation, transport, food, along with the value of additional media exposure.

It is also a chance to get locals involved and to showcase the local music talent, food and artisans to residents and tourists alike.

The Cayman Islands’ other two festivals – Pirates Week and Batabano – will be showcased at Jazz Fest also, through two tents set up to promote them.

There are many promotional advantages to working with BET for Jazz Fest, said Mr. Scott. One is that BET event productions come here and film both a preview and a post show in the Cayman Islands. The preview turns into an hour long show that showcases activities in the Cayman Islands, clips of the artists involved in the jazz fest and is shown on BET, BET Jazz and VHI many times. This show sells both the Cayman Islands and the Jazz Fest to viewers.

The post show plays the performances of Jazz Fest, including the best three local performances.

Other overseas promotional advertising done in the US by DoT for the Jazz Fest includes radio and TV commercials along with advertising in jazz magazines and doing a big public relations push with the US media who come here and do stories before, during and after the festival.

What is special about the Cayman Jazz Fest, which sets it apart from other jazz festivals in the Caribbean, is that it is relatively new and stays true to jazz.

‘We’re young, it’s our third year and we’re trying to amaze people with the quality of the festival we put on,’ said Mr. Scott.

While some other jazz fests are letting other genres of music sneak into their performances, such as Rhythm and Blues, Mr. Scott asserts that Cayman wants to keep its festival hinged to smooth jazz.

This year, the likes of Michael Phillips and Boney James help ground the smooth jazz feel while headliner Natalie Cole crosses over into smooth jazz.

The Jazz Fest is currently evolving based on what worked previously. ‘Every year we try to mix and match to see what works,’ he explained.

The first year the three nights’ performances were outdoors, but last year this changed with the first night going indoors into a more intimate setting at the Westin. This successful formula has been carried through to this year.

Another example of change is local band Swanky’s promotion to the main stage this year because of such a successful performance last year on a side stage.

This year there are fewer food vendors and only local food vendors. Each year the vendors are to be rotated to give others a chance to sell, but the fewer vendors allows greater profit for those selling.

While BET does a lot of the actual production work for the music concert and also helps to promote it overseas, DoT actually organizes the event. As soon as one Jazz Fest is over, the planning for the next has to begin. Securing dates and artists, deciding on advertising and marketing strategies all makes for a lot of preparation, which really intensifies six months out, said Mr. Scott.

And this year’s Jazz Fest comes on the heels of the biggest single conference the Cayman Islands has ever seen – The FCCA Cruise Conference – mostly organized by DoT.

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