Arizona festival planners gather in Tucson to, well, plan

September 4, 2014

El Tour de Tucson is a large driver of event tourism in Southern Arizona.

El Tour de Tucson is a large driver of event tourism in Southern Arizona.

by Brad Poole

Most of us know about the 4th Avenue Street Fair and Tucson Meet Yourself, but did you know Tucson has more than 600 annual festivals, races and similar get-togethers sprinkled across the metro area and spanning the calendar from January through December?
Neither did I.

This week, a few dozen organizers of those events and others throughout Arizona will gather for the third annual Arizona Conference of Festivals and Events. The conference is a meeting of the minds among festival sponsors, planners and make-happeners. The goal is smooth, successful fests, races, picnics, concerts… whatever you’re planning, said conference organizer Mia Hansen.

“When it goes right, nobody notices. When it goes wrong, everybody notices,” Hansen said.

Major events like All Soul’s Procession or Second Saturdays are an expensive logistical dance that few on the outside comprehend. Where do you put Porta-Potties? Where do people park? Is there enough food? Will it be hot? Cold? The list is endless, and the conference will help the folks who plan your weekend 5k race answer all those questions and more.

The Downtown Parade of Lights, another popular local event, will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Dec. 20th.

The Downtown Parade of Lights, another popular local event, will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Dec. 20th.

Huddling at the University Marriott for much of the conference, the group will branch out Friday to take advantage of Sun Link. Dine on the Line will bring attendees from Main Gate Square on the streetcar to 4th Avenue for appetizers, then dinner Downtown and dessert at the Mercado. The evening ends with a nightcap back at Main Gate. Dine on the Line is included in the conference fee and available for everyone for just $50, with meals included.

The conference more than just a networking opportunity. There will be Certified Festival and Events Executive training from the International Festivals & Events Association, and seminars with Becky Genoways, a 30-year veteran of event planning and a member of the President’s Council of the International Festivals & Events Association. Topics will include security, food, sponsorship, and how to raise money – a key goal of many events, Hansen said.

“There are all kinds of ways to raise money outside of sponsorship,” she said.

Tucson is a state leader in some categories of events, especially sports. El Tour de Tucson is a giant among Arizona athletics, and we have dozens of running events, including the Holualoa Tucson Marathon. Because it’s a fast course during a cool time of year, that race brings runners from all across the nation to qualify for the Boston Marathon.


The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show alone brought $120 million to Tucson last year.

The local Festival and Events Association started counting recently, and so far they’ve identified more than 600 local festivals, races, runs, rides, walks, swims, concerts and other gatherings. It’s a mind-boggling array that injects hundreds of millions of dollars into the southern Arizona economy. The 2014 Tucson Gem Mineral and Fossil Showcase alone poured an estimated $120 million into our economy, according to an economic impact report from Visit Tucson.

“Tucson is the midst of an exciting, entrepreneurial revitalization, and events play a large role in that,” said Kurt Tallis, President of the Festival and Events Association of Tucson and Southern Arizona, which is hosting the weekend conference.

The conference is Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the University Marriott. Professional Certified Festival & Events Executive (CFEE) training will be offered Thursday and Friday. The cost is $150 for FEATAZ members; $200 for non-members. For registration, schedule and other information, go to the FEATSAZ website.