Photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival
ASHLAND Attendance at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has dropped 6% from last year, as the weakened economy forces consumers to cut spending on luxuries like travel and the arts.
Predicting a 7% decrease in attendance for the current season, festival organizers last fall trimmed the 2009 budget by $1.6 million to $24.9 million. Now, nearly three months into the festival’s eight-and-a-half month run, the numbers are encouraging, although not a definitive sign of increased attendance in future months.
“The big question is whether this reduction is occurring because people are not going to come at all, or if they just haven’t decided yet,” says Paul Nicholson, the festival’s executive director.
He notes that in previous seasons attendees were likely to purchase their tickets and reserve accommodations months in advance. However, this year many patrons are not buying tickets until they’re sure they can afford the trip.
Because the festival’s budget and financial commitments are set months before it opens, even if ticket sales or attendance continue to decline further budget cuts will not take effect until the 2010 budget, which Nicholson anticipates will be no larger than this year’s budget.
With the busiest season yet to come in the summer when the outdoor Elizabethan stage opens, Nicholson looks to coming months with cautious optimism. The audiences for the spring plays are at about 90% capacity, which is comparable to last year. Nicholson says that bodes well for the summer.
“People are still seeking out the festival experience, but they are definitely revising their spending while they’re here,” says Katharine Flanagan, marketing director for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.
The festival falloff already is being felt by local businesses that depend on the $58 million the festival brings into Ashland annually. Several local hotels and restaurants for whom festival patrons account for at least half their sales, note business has already decreased by 10%.
Ashland Springs Hotel is running specials and promotions to boost business. Karolina Wyszynska, director of sales and marketing, says the hotel’s discount packages combining lodging with festival tickets, spa treatments or winery tours have been popular.