KAABOO expected to generate nearly $14 million

The land north of the Kimpton Seafire hotel is being cleared as the site of the KAABOO festival. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

What may be the largest-ever festival planned for the Cayman Islands next year is expected to attract 11,000 people for each of its two days and, with them, a lot of money.

The greatest beneficiary of next February’s KAABOO Festival – featuring music, comedy, art, food and more – is expected to be the hotel industry. But restaurants, retail, tech companies and transportation are expected to reap benefits as well.

Dart and Virgin enterprises are co-sponsoring the event. Dart CEO Mark VanDevelde said an economic impact forecast by Deloitte, a financial and consulting firm, shows KAABOO could bring $13.9 million to the island.

In an emailed statement, Mr. VanDevelde said the forecast estimates $8.7 million in direct spending in such areas as “food and beverage, local talent and designers, marketing, staging and equipment, site operations and accommodation for talent, KAABOO employees and incremental visitors to the island.” An additional $4.4 million is expected in indirect spending along with $760,000 in government revenue.

Estimates specific to the festival are not yet available, although Dart, which is co-sponsoring the festival, is working on an economic impact report. Organizers expect about half of the festival attendees will be off-island visitors. The Department of Tourism’s 2016 annual report shows the average amount of money spent by a stay-over visitor is $178 per day. An average stay of three nights for 5,500 visitors would generate $2.9 million under normal conditions.

But KAABOO will not be business as usual. It will take an army of people to provide food and services for the festival.

Jason Felts, chief marketing and brand officer for KAABOO, said he expects to hire as many as 800 people to staff the event, workers who will do everything from parking cars to managing hospitality for VIP ticket holders. He said 70 percent to 80 percent will be local residents.

“We’ve already started interviewing,” he said. “We’ll start scaling up as we get closer.”

Companies and individuals hope to cash in on the opportunity. Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce President Paul Byles expects a boost for many of his members.

“We have not discussed the event directly with the organisers but from what we have seen we support their efforts,” Mr. Byles wrote in an email. “I am sure there is likely to be a benefit to our local businesses.”

Mr. Felts has experience in promoting and producing large events. He is one of the organizers behind the KAABOO festival in San Diego, California, which is backed by Virgin Produced, the entertainment arm of Richard Branson’s Virgin empire. That event is heading into its third year with groups such as the Foo Fighters, Imagine Dragons and Katy Perry set to perform in September. Last Friday, Mr. Felts also announced plans for a KAABOO festival in Dallas, Texas, in May of next year.

Virgin Produced is the other co-sponsor of Cayman’s festival, which will be a scaled-down version of the original and is unlikely to feature the kind of headliners playing in San Diego. But Mr. Felts said the Cayman lineup, which will be announced May 15, will include what he called hit makers and “bucket list” artists. Early bird, discounted tickets for the event have already sold out.

Pilar Bush, a spokeswoman for Dart, said she believes KAABOO will not only provide an economic shot for Cayman early next year, but in years to come.

“This caliber of entertainment at this scale has not been done in the Caribbean,” Ms. Bush said. “Ten thousand [people] is twice the size of any other Cayman event. We expect the economic impact to increase year on year.”

One of the biggest sectors to benefit, she said, will be local restaurants recruited to provide food for the festival.

“It’s catering at a scale of a big event,” Ms. Bush said. “Restaurants are going to be able to do that.”

Construction crews are installing permanent plumbing and electrical lines at the festival site, opening the possibility that the space could be used for other events in the future, she added.

Transportation will get a boost, she said, adding that she expects airlines may increase the size of the planes flying to Cayman that week in order to accommodate more passengers. Taxis and buses are likely to benefit. The only on-site parking will be for those holding VIP passes.

Mr. Felts said a network of park-and-ride areas with shuttles is being formulated to serve the 39-acre festival site just north of the Kimpton Seafire Resort. Those parking lots are expected to be at such places as Governors Harbour, Camana Bay, George Town and along West Bay Road.

“We’re having a traffic coordinator to work with all the local transport companies as well as the government,” Mr. Felts said. “We’ve done a similar program in Del Mar, where it’s seamless.”

The increased economic activity is expected to ripple into other areas as well, including banking, telecommunications and government agencies, said Tiffany Dixon-Ebanks, executive director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association. In an email, she said beyond the basic hospitality industry, a slew of businesses might see a piece of the action.

“Hired vendors, of various types, marketing and PR agencies (if sourced on island), catering, logistics, layout, lighting, sound, local entertainers/bands, artists, clean-up/break-down, event staff … would facilitate opportunities for employment and third party income generation,” Ms. Dixon-Ebanks said.

Since part of the KAABOO event focuses on art, there is potential for the local art community to benefit as well. Mr. Felts has said Cayman artists will be part of the exhibit at the festival and there will be artwork for sale. What percentage of the art will be locally produced is unknown at this time.

Natalie Urquhart, director of the Cayman Islands National Gallery, said the gallery’s education department is holding workshops for artists and will be creating murals for the event. Any added exposure for the arts community is beneficial, she said.

“The more commercial opportunities for local artists the better,” Ms. Urquhart wrote in an email. “Any healthy arts community relies on the sale of artwork and with a small collecting community here in Cayman it can be challenging for local artists. Festivals like KAABOO, LIVE, Poinciana, etc., provide … a small, but intense window for sales. The hopes are that artists have the chance to develop longer-term collectors from the experience.”

Mr. Felts said KAABOO Cayman is already enjoying promotion from its connection with the San Diego festival. In a slew of media interviews he did after the announcement of the San Diego lineup, he said the Cayman Islands came up in virtually every conversation. That kind of attention, he and others say, has economic ramifications beyond the festival itself.

Ms. Bush, who once directed Cayman’s Department of Tourism, said having Cayman marketed through a major corporation – Mr. Felts said Virgin Airlines will advertise KAABOO Cayman – will provide important exposure.

“Many other events wouldn’t have that type of sponsor and that type of reach,” she said.

Capturing that attention can lead to more visitations, she said, adding that she hopes the festival will do that as well. Getting people onto the island is just the start.

“It’s up to us to make sure they have such a good time,” Ms. Bush said. “We see the attendees of this event having interest in the Sister Islands. Some people will add a day or two. People are already asking, ‘How can I arrange a trip to the Brac or Little Cayman?’”

She also sees potential for the festival to grow even bigger.

“There are many ways to go up from 10,000 [people],” she said. “February and March are two of the biggest months [for tourism]. Getting to 12,000 or 14,000 is certainly doable.

“The first year will be challenging, because we’re working within a 12-month period,” Ms. Bush added. “But we expect the economic impact to increase year on year.”

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