This Might Be the Worst Event-Planning Crisis in Recent History

Author: David McMillin       

With white-sand beaches and a star-packed music lineup, the inaugural Fyre Festival — set to start on Friday, April 28 — seemed to have struck the right chord with concertgoers. The entire experience sounded like the next level of luxury in the line of music festivals that have emerged as cultural status symbols. Set on a private Bahamian island in the Exumas, the festival even promised to handle transportation for ticket holders. In a Medium post that served as a kind of “What to Know Before You Go” announcement, organizers wrote, “We’re cutting any sort of stress from your experience, from the festival grounds to your journey in to see us.”

Photo courtesy of @WNFIV

It was apparently too good to be true. When attendees arrived at the festival site, they discovered some serious troubles in paradise. The grounds were in disarray, and the social-media buzz from the event included comparisons to The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. Tents, which organizers described as “unfussy retreats” with “panels that can be opened like windows to allow in ocean breezes,” turned out to be nothing more than flimsy housing that a budget summer camp would provide. The festival had promised to be “a place where music, culture, and food combine,” but that last ingredient seemed to be missing as well — unless, of course, attendees were craving room-temperature bread with a few slices of cheese. As news of the chaos continued to unfold, some attendees posted that food and water were scarce.

Photo courtesy of @trev4president

Back in Miami, some lucky ticket holders escaped the misfortune of arriving on the island when all the remaining charter flights were cancelled. The flames of the Fyre Festival were officially extinguished early Friday morning. “Due to unforeseen and extenuating circumstances, Fyre Festival has been fully postponed,” a message on the event’s Twitter account read. “After assessing the situation this morning and looking at best options for our guests, we cannot move forward as we hoped we could.”

The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism was understandably frustrated with the steady stream of negative press the destination was receiving with #fyrefestival trending on social media. “We are extremely disappointed in the way the events unfolded yesterday with the Fyre Festival,” a statement from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism read on April 28. “The event organizers assured us that all measures were taken to ensure a safe and successful event but clearly they did not have the capacity to execute an event of this scale. A team of Ministry of Tourism representatives is on the island to assist with the organization of a safe return of all Fyre Festival visitors.”

Selling an Experience Without Sorting Out Logistics

So what went wrong? After combing through information available online about the event, it seems that organizers prioritized making money and pushing a marketing plan without any real concern for being able to execute on the experience. Fyre Media — a venture started by rapper Ja Rule and tech entrepreneur Billy McFarland — seemed to have a fairly simple equation for selling the very expensive tickets: Pay celebrities and attractive models to spread the word. A pre-event article in Vanity Fair highlighted that the company hired 400 influencers to post about the festival. It worked: The festival sold out before organizers even announced the music lineup. Who cared who was playing? Attendees bought into the vision to spend time on a private island with celebrities, and they paid a lot to be part of it. Billboard reported that tickets cost between $4,000 and $250,000. Yachts were available to rent for $60,000.

Those yachts will never leave the harbor, though. At the time of this writing, it would seem that attendees would just be relieved to leave the island.

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