[Blog] Sun, Sand, Sea and Serious Consequences. The story of Fyre Festival.

Date 24.01.2019

As an event graduate and professional, Lucy Wright, our Senior Graduate Tutor in Events Management, winced and cringed her way through recent documentaries that went behind the scenes of 2017’s catastrophic Fyre Festival. In this blog, Lucy highlights some of the basic errors made by the organisers of the festival…


If you have not heard about Fyre festival, I urge you to go and watch one of the recently aired documentaries. For anyone who has never organised an event, the story will be shocking. For those of you who are an event student or professional, it will be downright outrageous.

The concept: Idyllic and remote island location, luxury accommodation, top music acts, food prepared by celebrity chefs and more. The tickets were to include all of this, as well as return travel to the island on private jets. If you are reading this as an event professional, I know what you’re already thinking. This is not possible unless you have two things: 1. Money, and lots of it, 2. Time (and lots of that too). Sadly, I can confirm that the organisers had neither of these things.

The idea was dreamt up in October 2016 by business entrepreneur and rising New York star Billy McFarland. The festival was launched online by way of a beautifully polished advert. It shows ten of the world’s top fashion models frolicking on a beautiful beach and yacht, enjoying cocktails and music. You can watch it here. The models featured in the video, along with top celebrities like Kendall Jenner, got involved in the campaign, sharing it all over the internet. Within days, the festival had sold over 5,000 tickets.

Image - Fyre Festival 2

Bella Hadid posing for Fyre Festival ad campaign. Image credit: https://grazia.com.au/articles/fyre-festival-documentary-netflix/

The problem with using big influencers such as celebrities for a marketing campaign, is that they use up a large portion of your marketing budget. This was the case for the Fyre festival team, and only a few months before the event was due to take place, the main bulk of the money had gone.

With only two months to go, the organisers decided it was probably about time they started organising the festival. Unsurprisingly, they found it extremely difficult to get the infrastructure in place required for a large music event, and as such, a lot of what was promised did not materialize. Luxury beachfront accommodation became used hurricane relief tents, duck feather beds became blow up mattresses on the floor, and five-star, celebrity chef catering became toasted sandwiches from a local restaurant.

Despite the many red flags which arose during the planning stages, the organisers went ahead with the event, meaning that on the 27th April 2017, attendees began turning up. As the festival was not ready for arrivals, the ticket holders were taken to a different location for a beach party. After hours of waiting, they became restless and were taken to the festival site. This was where they saw the true nature of the ‘luxury’ event, and went into a frenzy. The organisers finally decided to cancel the event at this point (better late than never?) and the attendees after being stranded in the airport for hours all went home.

McFarland has since been found guilty of fraud and has been sentenced to 6 years in prison.

Lessons learnt

As an event graduate and professional, I could see the slip ups before they went wrong. However, it doesn’t take an expert to see how the following key changes could have saved a lot of agony:

1.      Plan your event in plenty of time.

If you’re planning a small meeting for 30 people, or a music festival for 30,000, you need to make sure you have plenty of time to get your things in order. The Fyre Festival team didn’t start the planning stages until 2 months beforehand.

2.      Under sell, over deliver.

Everyone knows that expectations are everything. If you send a message in your marketing that an event will be legendary, people will turn up expecting the very best. Fyre Festival promised absolute luxury, so when attendees arrived, the sights were even more horrendous than if they had not been expecting 5 star lodges.

3.      Take good care of your employees.

Not only did Fyre Festival have people working around the clock, they also have yet to pay them for it. Although the festival’s reputation is unsalvageable, other events often depend on public opinion, and if you don’t take care of staff, people will find out about it. Remember, people talk.

There are many other things the Fyre team could have done to avoid such a scandal, but instead the festival serves as a stark reminder that if you do not put the foundations in place, the building, and in this case luxury lodge, will fall.

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