Updated: 9 hours ago
On May 29-31st, 2023, the Music Tourism Convention will be travelling to Cape Breton Island in Canada. Although widely known for its natural sights, the region is a place where fiddles, Celtic melodies and Mi'kmaq beats harmonize, making it one of the most special music destinations on earth.
As we get ready for the event, we'd like to introduce you to our #musictourismhub series, in which we'll share stories and profiles from people working at the forefront of Music Tourism from all around the world.
In this occasion, we head up to Hamilton, Ontario in Canada to talk with Jennifer Mueller, Program Manager with the Tourism & Culture Division of the City. Hamilton is a city located at the western tip of Lake Ontario, around one hour west of Toronto, in which music plays a central role in the place's identity, community building and user experience.
In this interview, Jennifer gives us an eye-opening insight into all of the initiatives that Hamilton is using to make the city an exciting music destination, and how this is helping to bring in and extend the length of stay of tourists.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at the City of Hamilton
I’m a Program Manager with the Tourism & Culture Division at the City of Hamilton. I wear a few hats in my role including leading Tourism Hamilton’s marketing team as well as various projects in our Creative Industries and Cultural Development section such as the implementation of the City’s brand strategy for music. I grew up here and feel incredibly lucky to be able to channel my love of my hometown into a job that supports our creative and hard-working tourism, hospitality, and culture sectors.
Can you describe Hamilton and its role as a music destination?
Hamilton, Ontario is a port city located at the western tip of Lake Ontario, around one hour west of Toronto. It’s an industrial and cultural hub surrounded on all sides by shorelines, farmland, and the stunning Niagara Escarpment that cuts through it.
Despite being Canada’s 9th largest city with a population of over 700,000, a lot of people refer to the city’s friendly, small-town feel. We’re well known for our grit and steel industry, but consistently impress visitors with our cultural attractions and spectacular nature.
The city attracts more than six million visitors a year. We know most are coming in from nearby Ontario cities like Toronto and that their main reason for coming is to visit friends and family followed by leisure and pleasure. This represents a great opportunity to leverage music events to both lure visitors to the city and to give them something to experience or stick around for while they’re here or ‘in-market’.
Hamilton has a diverse mix of smaller, intimate music venues like The Casbah and Mills Hardware and mid-size performance spaces like Bridgeworks, Music Hall, and Westdale Theatre to name a few. But we also have Southern Ontario’s largest portfolio of major sports and entertainment venues outside of Toronto. These include our major indoor arena, FirstOntario Centre and major outdoor sports stadium, and occasional concert venue Tim Hortons Field. Both draw huge acts.
Our musical roots run deep with many famous exports and resident musicians, including famed producer Daniel Lanois, members of the popular rock band Arkells, and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings frontman Tom Wilson just to name a few. These and many more have helped cement the city’s reputation as a great music destination.
Now, the big question: How do you attract people to the city for music and extend their stay?
1. Marketing the Hamilton Experience Alongside Events
While we definitely promote live music events, we really try to focus on inspiring visitors to stay longer and spend more money. We do that by always putting unique Hamilton experiences in front of them to encourage them to explore the city before and after the show they’re attending.
One recent example was a collaboration with a hugely popular local food influencer on a customized food and travel guide (reels, stories and blog) for a massive sold-out K-Pop concert by BlackPink. We’ve also partnered with local rock-folk band Red Hill Valleys to create a morning-to-night itinerary packed with their favourite Hamilton spots to inspire visitors coming in for the Canadian Country Music Festival in September. We leverage Google ads to target potential concertgoers with great Hamilton content, run contests to grow our audience and promote hospitality partners, and push relevant neighbourhood guides alongside event promotions.
2. Embracing an Open-for-Business Music Brand
In recent years Hamilton has embraced its City of Music brand to support Hamilton’s music industry, artists, and consumers/visitors. We’re actively working towards our vision of cultivating a thriving, creative, and eclectic music scene while weaving an ‘open-for-business’ vision through our work - everything from licensing local music for marketing videos to hiring local artists for hosted events, placemaking, and animation.
The City has also adopted some recent policies including:
The City’s recent Fair Payment for Musicians policy was developed to tangibly recognize the value of musicians’ work by paying rates for performances at City-led events that align with music industry standards. That means artists performing at events led by City-staff cannot be asked to work for ‘exposure’.
The creation of special “Musicians Welcome” zones, allows them to load and unload equipment at designated downtown music venues without being ticketed.
The recent introduction of sound exemption permits to allow for amplified sound (music, speakers, microphones) at special events and on patios.
3. Investing in Music
We recognize the power of music as an economic driver for job creation, attracting workers, quality of life, business investment, and tourism development, and invest in a variety of music festivals big and small. Just some recent examples:
Sponsorship and support for annual events like our marquee arts festival Supecrawl drawing hundreds of thousands of attendees for an epic three-day block party; Concrete Canvas, celebrating 50 years of hip hop at this year’s much-anticipated street art festival, and Hamilton Winterfest, warming up the season with great music.
The City also supports local music with its $1 million in annual grants through its City Enrichment Fund.
The City also supports and collaborates with the Hamilton Music Advisory Team, a citizen-based group made up of local music industry leaders and performers.
Future investment is also being injected into the new “Downtown Entertainment Precinct” which will bring a $100 million upgrade to key downtown event spaces, transforming the downtown core, and drawing even more high-caliber events and visitors.
4. Leveraging Location
Hamilton is located mid-way between Toronto and Niagara Falls, in the heart of one of Canada’s most densely populated regions. More than two million people are within a one-hour drive of the city.
Our proximity to Toronto is obviously helpful in drawing a lot of out-of-town visitors for great acts - big and small. We’ve also seen larger acts choose Hamilton when Toronto arenas are booked since we’re easy to reach and offer lots for visitors to experience.
Tourism Hamilton is also actively working with local partners and the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce to strategize on how to help support the nighttime economy and extend hours of regional public transportation to support even more concert-goers to travel in and out of the city.
If you want to learn more about everything taking place in Hamilton, ON, Canada, go to the city's official website here.
If you're looking for ideas and tools to turn your city into a music destination, then join us on May 29-31st, 2023, at the Cape Breton Island Music Tourism Convention. You can learn all about the event and get your tickets here.
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