Arts Festivals and Sustainable Development in Ireland

Bernadette Quinn, Dublin Institute of Technology

Document Type Article

Journal of Sustainable Tourism 14, 3, 288-306.


This paper problematises the term ‘festival tourism’. It conceptualizes festivals as socially sustaining devices and argues that while they frequently function as tourist attractions their social significance extends far beyond tourism. Using empirical material gathered in two case study arts festivals in Ireland, the paper demonstrates how festivals can contribute to arts development by inter alia creating demand for the arts, enhancing venue infrastructures, encouraging local creativity and animating local involvement. The paper contends that arts festivals, irrespective of their initial objectives almost inevitably develop tourist profiles over time and it proceeds to examine how changing tourism priorities in the two festivals studied impact upon sustainable festival practices. The findings suggest that tourism emerged as a key force promoting festival growth and expansion. It was found to be associated with increased revenue flows but also with increased arts activity on a year-round basis and with an improved venue infrastructure in both places. However, problems were identified with respect to the quality of the relationship forged between the festivals and local populations in the respective places. The paper concludes by arguing that festivals’ engagement with tourism needs to be carefully managed in the interests of promoting the socially sustaining function of festivals and of encouraging sustainable approaches to tourism development.