Festivals energize Aarhus’ tourism industry

With festivals like SPOT and Northside, which opens today, Aarhus has seen a growth in tourism in the past few years – good news for hotels, bars and shops owners

By Michelle Pucci

“Nobody outside of Aarhus knows about Aarhus.”

For the many out-of-towners visiting Aarhus, going to NorthSide often means staying in a hotel in the city (Photo: NorthSide Press)

For the many out-of-towners visiting Aarhus, going to NorthSide often means staying in a hotel in the city (Photo: NorthSide Press)

It’s true that few people outside of Denmark have heard of the country’s second biggest city. But even Peer Kristensen, who runs VisitAarhus, the city’s tourism office, knows he’s being far too cynical.

“We work for growth,” says Kristensen. “Our strategy is to make Aarhus expand.”

With festivals like SPOT, held last May, and NorthSide, who kicks off this weekend, that doesn’t seem like such a far off goal.

VisitAarhus promotes events that attract citizens from neighbouring countries. The office focuses on an international market, primarily people in Norway, Sweden, northern Germany, and the UK.

An estimated 12,000 visitors were in Aarhus for the SPOT festival, a third of whom were international. According to Peter Laursen, manager of Radisson Blu and president for Jutland’s largest hotel and restaurant organization, guests spend between 1,000 and 2,000 kroner per day, which could add up to 50 million kroner spent throughout the weekend.

“Last year for NorthSide, a lot of the hotel managers were saying it was good business for the city,” says Kristensen. “When a hotel manager says it’s good business, then it’s good business.”

NorthSide doesn’t allow camping, which is a loss for the festival, since camping is a great source of easy revenue. For the many out-of-towners visiting Aarhus, going to NorthSide often means staying in a hotel in the city.

“As a tourist manager, I like that type of festival, where people need to get out and get beds,” Kristensen says. “Sometimes you try to build a festival like a resort, people should not leave the place for a week, they should use all the money they bring inside the ‘resort’.”

NorthSide has sold out for the third year in a row, expecting approximately 35,000 visitors. While the festival provides food and drinks during the day, at night these people visit the city’s bars and clubs, making the city more ‘livable’.

“If we didn’t have these type of events, then Aarhus would be a boring place to be,” says Kristensen.

More rooms

Aarhus has definitely seen a growth in tourism, which evidently leads to growth in employment and interest.

This year, the city’s hotel capacity will expand 25 per cent. At the beginning of July, a 4-star Comwell hotel, the big black box by the train station, will open 240 more rooms in Aarhus.

According to Kristensen, 3 billion kroner was spent by tourists last year. Around 5,600 workers are affected by the industry, which sees the total number of visitors reach 3.5 million.

The city, however, attracts mostly Danes from other regions. Of the 3 billion spent by visitors, 2.3 billion kroner is spent by Danish tourists.

Of the total visitors, 750,000 stay for a night; 77 per cent stay at hotels, the rest go camping, stay in boats in the marina or summer cottages.

Björn Lydén, owner of music shop Badstuerock: increase in sales (Photo: Michelle Pucci)

Björn Lydén, owner of music shop Badstuerock: increase in sales (Photo: Michelle Pucci)

Björn Lydén owns Aarhus’s local vinyl and music shop, Badstuerock, which sells everything from fringe records to those likely to play festivals like NorthSide.

“To me it seems there’s been more tourists in the last couple of years,” says the shop owner.

“Vinyl has had a big return,” he says. “That means a shop like this has had a lot more tourists.”

Badstuerock has been an Aarhus institution since 1973. Lydén began working at the shop on Badstuengade for 12 years and took over the business just over two years ago.

Although SPOT and NorthSide are contemporary music festivals, they have little in common. “In our opinion, SPOT and NorthSide are two different things,” says Kristensen.

In addition to showcasing underground artists, SPOT is a place where the Danish music industry carries out business. NorthSide is a typical music festival, similar to its big sister SouthSide in Germany and London’s Field Day.

The toughest thing about SPOT for the tourism office is finding a target audience. Many visitors on SPOT weekend are industry representatives who come to see local music and sign deals. Kristensen can count on these festival-goers, but struggles to find a target audience for SPOT that he can use to advertise the festival.

“If we’re going to use it as a future marketing platform for the city, then we need to know which band can appeal to which target groups,” says Kristensen.

NorthSide on the other hand, draws in music-lovers of all genres. The bands tend to be well established, and the festival attracts many young people from Northern Europe.

“NorthSide is a great event for this city—we are the youngest city in Denmark,” he says, referring to the 55,000 students living in Aarhus.

Whereas SPOT is more rooted in the Aarhus music scene, NorthSide is still settling into the Jutland region.

“NorthSide was established quite fast, but it’s still a young festival,” Lydén from Badstuerock says.

It’s still difficult for most boutiques to notice any changes in sales around NorthSide time, but Lydén definitely sees more sales around SPOT, which is targeted and appeals to people working in the music industry.

Customers around SPOT weekend will be more likely to ask for local Danish acts, because they saw them at the festival or were tipped off by someone else. During the jazz festival in mid-July, Lydén also sees a number of Danes and tourists looking for jazz records.

“Thank God for me people still like to listen to music on a physical disc or LP,” says Lydén. “Hopefully [festival goers] will walk out of the shop with a big bag of records in their hand.”

Aarhus Capital of Culture

With 2017 approaching, it’s interesting to see references to Aarhus’s capital of culture programme, Rethink, but Peter Laursen doesn’t see much of a change to the city’s annual event calendar.

“All the things that are going on at the moment have always been going on,” he says.

Laursen is the president of HORESTA for the Jutland region. The organization’s members account for 85 per cent of hotel capacity and 50 percent of restaurant revenue in Denmark.

The hotel manager says it’s good for the Capital of Culture campaign to capitalize on the events already taking place in Aarhus. The Rethink brand has been supporting and putting its mark on events like SPOT festival and Internet Week Denmark, generating more awareness for 2017.

“Then they will start brainwashing the guests that are here anyway and who have an interest for culture,” he says laughing.

Michelle Pucci is an undergraduate journalism student from Montreal, Canada, currently living and studying journalism abroad in Denmark.