Tamás Kádár, CEO of the six-day, 92,000-capacity, Sziget Festival in Hungary tells Access about the Superstruct Entertainment-owned event’s 30-year history, how tourism has helped drive its growth, and what the current challenges are in the local market.
One of the biggest festivals in Europe, Sziget (‘Island’ in Hungarian) is held in northern Budapest, on Óbudai-sziget, a 108-hectare island on the Danube. More than 1,000 performances take place each year, with this year’s headline artists including David Guetta, Billie Eilish, Florence and The Machine, and Lorde. The 2023 edition of the festival welcomed more than 420,000 fans, with artists from 62 countries performing across more than 50 stages.
Sziget clearly has a vast amount of entertainment on offer. What do you think is the secret to its success?
For a lot of people who come for the first time, there’s an amazing number of shows and programmes and it’s overwhelming.
We have a very special location on an island in the heart of the city. It’s like a festival holiday for people coming abroad. Away from the festival site people can go sightseeing or go on a boat party, which really adds to the experience.
This year we felt people were very happy with not just the programming, but also the customer services which we invested a lot in. For example more campsites were added and over 1,000 flushable toilets were added to replace portables.
There have been comparisons made between Sziget and Glastonbury – how much of a similarity do you think there is?
Glastonbury will always be the mother of all festivals. I’ve seen some people call us the Coachella of Europe. It’s good to have these comparisons, but in our 30-year history we’ve built up a special atmosphere, so it’s hard to compare it to other festivals as we try to stay as unique as we can.
Your other Hungarian festival Balaton Sound [cap. 40,000] is also one of Europe’s best known. How healthy is the festival market in Hungary currently?
We have a tough economic situation in the country right now. We have huge inflation which is much higher than the European average, which doesn’t make life easy, but we see that not only festivals but all kinds of live events are on the rise again in Hungary. We have had arena shows this year as well as small festivals. It looks like the local market is strong enough to overcome these difficulties.
How has Sziget developed in its 30-year history?
It started very small in 1993 after the communist era. The founders of the festival had this realisation that there was nothing for young people to come together. Before 1989, the Communist Party had organised get-togethers but when the system broke there was basically no way of young people coming together. So they put on something for free for young people, and that’s how Sziget started. It was in the same location, and in the first year it had 40,000 visitors over seven days.
After two or three years of struggling financially, with the city helping it overcome the difficulties, it became a big one in the country. After 10-12 years, the first international visitors arrived at the festival. Around 15 years ago it became more international, with around 10% of visitors coming from abroad. Now we have people coming from countries such as the Netherlands, the UK, France and Italy. This year, we had visitors from Australia and New Zealand. It’s really a global get-together now.
How important is tourism to the success of Sziget?
Around 50% of our customers are from other countries. The big benefit for us is that most foreign visitors stay for longer, they buy the full festival pass for six days or the three-day pass, while the locals often come for one or two days, cherry-picking the artists they want to see.
When it comes to choosing suppliers, do you primarily work with local operators?
Wherever we can we try to arrange from Hungary. We try to stay as green as we can and limit our footprint. It’s a huge production of course, so there are certain tents and stages we have to deliver from outside of Hungary because the market is quite small. We have big tents from Belgium, Portugal and all over Europe. Our workforce and smaller stuff always come from the Hungarian market.
What are your plans for 2024?
Next year we will celebrate our 30th year, as we missed out on 2020. I don’t think there’s many festivals in Europe as old as us so it’s important to celebrate that milestone. We’ve already had a flash sale and we’ve had great results so far.