Issue 9: Dave’s World

The Same, But Different, and More So

Most American fliers are incredibly jealous of the big European festivals. Incredibly jealous.

To begin with, the European events attract thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of appreciative spectators. Corporate sponsors and local governments provide budgets that are astronomical by US standards. There is money to support the transportation and lodging of overseas guests, the skyline is filled with huge, unique kites, and the press covers these events thoroughly. Organizers doing all the work actually get paid for their efforts.

By contrast, American fliers often find themselves virtually alone at
festivals. An audience of a thousand or two is considered a success. The press pays scant attention. Only the largest festivals can afford to import guests. And organizers seldom, if ever, make any money.

Why the difference? What is Europe doing so right that we Americans can’t seem to figure out?? For me the answer is simple — European festivals are more successful because they are held in Europe…

Let’s begin with the money.

There is a lot you can do with a reasonable amount of cash. With large crowds, you can get big sponsors. But without the money of big sponsors, it’s more difficult to attract the public.

In Europe, the largest festivals are supported by local government and tourist organizations. At the biggest events, budgets exceed $100,000. But in the US, receiving financial support from government for kite events is almost unheard of. When there are exceptions, the amount is comparatively small. Our most successful festivals in Long Beach, Washington; Wildwood, New Jersey; and Ocean City, Maryland receive less than $10,000.

Here in my own town, the tourist authority collects taxes on hotels and uses much of that money to hire local police. We have three kite events each year, but the city doesn’t contribute. They do, however, put pictures of our kite events in their tourist brochures.

Across Europe, major corporations also appear willing to support kite events. Bristol had a an internet service provider; Berck had the ferry system; Damp had a major car manufacturer. But in the States, major corporations look the other way.

We try very hard to recruit those big sponsors. But they don’t seem to be interested in kites. Several years ago, I telephoned Nike which is based here in Oregon. I asked them to help support our Oregon Stunt Kite Championships. “Why should we be interested in kites?” They replied, “Kites are for kids!”. So now I wear Reeboks…

We Americans pay our expenses by charging the fliers registration fees, collecting contributions from kite businesses, and earning extra money with raffles and auctions. More often than not, festivals are organized by kite retail stores who lose money on the event, but make it up in product sales or hope to increase interest in kiting in their market area. Ironically, local laws against “commercialism” on beaches or in parks usually prevent them from selling kites at their own events.

Because our budgets are smaller, what we are able to do is smaller as well. One thing that bothers many of us in particular, is the inability of American events to repay the generosity that we American fliers receive overseas.

Susan and I are privileged to have attended a lot of European festivals. We often receive lodging, meals and sometimes even air tickets. Dieppe imported a hundred fliers from 30 countries. But in the States, very few events can afford the luxury of hosting international guests. Lately, we’ve been doing better, but it embarrasses me that we are generally unable to bring European
fliers here.

So money is one major difference. Another is the number of spectators. With enough money, you can advertise. With enough money, you can even hire a professional to coordinate your advertising program. And if you advertise and promote your event well, more people will come. Without the money, you do your best to promote the event in your spare time after you get home from
your regular job.

Getting people to a kite event is, however, more than just good promotion. I’m fond of explaining that in Europe, families go out on the weekend. They travel, sightsee, and attend all kinds of events. In America, on the weekend, people watch TV.

Actually, it isn’t that simple. Americans tend to have larger homes and gardens so spend their weekends cleaning and cultivating. Europeans live in smaller homes and are anxious to get outside and away.

We Americans forget that the Europe is generally smaller and the people much more concentrated than our own. The United Kingdom, with 58 million residents, has the same area as my Oregon. But we only have three million people. So more Europeans tend to turn up at ‘local’ events while Americans often have to travel further.

And most important of all is the vacation factor. Europeans average five weeks of vacation each year and tend to take it for granted. Five weeks! Most Americans receive two weeks of vacation — if they have been working for a company more than three years. On new jobs, they often get no vacation at all in the first year.

This means that even the fliers can’t get to every festival. Two of the
USA’s top ranked teams had to skip the week-long competition in Guadeloupe because they had simply run out of vacation that year.

With more vacation, you can save money by driving to an event, stay longer, or travel more often. You can also take more time to make kites with all of the free time you have. That’s one reason, I think, why Europeans tend to make kites more so than Americans. We buy our kites. We don’t have time to make them.

So in general, if I were asked to summarize why European festivals are larger than American ones, I would say “culture” is the main difference. Things that work well there, don’t work the same here. For all our similarities, we are still as different as our electrical plugs.

Europeans, have an number of advantages. We, in the Newer World, are struggling to improve.