The Beltane Fire Festival

The Beltane Fire Festival: Understanding the motivations of attendees from a spirituality perspective.

The Beltane Fire Festival

At winter’s end, the Beltane Fire Festival recreates an ancient Celtic festival, celebrating the passing of the seasons with spiritual aspects. Marking the end of winter and the beginning of summer, the underlying symbolism of the spring festival is renewal and rebirth - with a focus on the passage of the seasons. The festival occurs annually outside the peak season for tourism to Edinburgh on the 30th April - on Calton Hill, Edinburgh.

Research Objectives

This research project had two key objectives:

  • To identify motivations for attending the Beltane Fire Festival
  • To assess whether spirituality might be relevant in assessing visitor intentions.

The methods of investigation involved both exploratory factor analysis, and confirmatory factor analysis, to test structures in distinct subsamples. The research has since been widely published, drawing upon on different aspects of the research findings.


Spiritual attitude, and the motivations of cultural adventure and escape are key factors

The research found that audience motivations mapped onto four “escape” items and three “cultural adventure” items. Escape reflects a desire to relieve stress and boredom, and change routine aspects of life.

The factor of cultural adventure includes items reflecting respondents’ desire to enhance their cultural knowledge, attain a new experience, and find adventure. While the two motivations have parallels to earlier research, the construct involving spiritual attitudes, encompassing interconnectedness and individuals being or becoming spiritual, appears to be little known. However, its emergence is consistent within the context of the Beltane Fire Festival. Thus, on this basis we conclude that spiritual attitude figures as a factor for the Beltane Fire Festival audience.

There are management implications for the Beltane Fire Festival professionalisation and growth

Further, a significant proportion of the audience knew little about the event (43.2%) or had heard about it informally (33.4%). This suggests marketing communications could be more focused on the nature of Beltane. In so doing, this could contribute to greater customer satisfaction, thereby encouraging repeat visits, as well as potentially garnering further visitors. 

The Edinburgh Beltane Fire Festival has unique features, such as occurring in the heart of the city, being the largest fire festival in Europe, being conducted in an English-speaking environment - and reflecting the fecundity, licentiousness and content of rituals that previously were practised widely in Europe. As such, a more focused and targeted marketing strategy could assist in attracting a wider range of visitors and tourists.

Implications extend to the host city's festival strategy and beyond

Major festivals held in Edinburgh are not only internationally renowned but have a significant economic impact, particularly given their role in attracting domestic and international visitors to the city. In recognition of the value of a balanced portfolio of events, the city has adopted a strategy which advocates this and, furthermore, a core objective of Edinburgh’s tourism strategy is to achieve balance and reduce seasonality in the tourism sector.

The Beltane Fire Festival is one event that contributes to cultural and economic tourism development. Managerial implications from this research relate to areas of tourism development, portfolio management, and marketing - all of which impinge on developing this visitor market.

In the last quarter of a century, the contemporary Beltane Fire Festival has developed organically with little in the way of external support. Although the festival occurs in a low period for tourism to Edinburgh, it consistently attracts an audience of approximately 8500, of which a sizeable proportion are tourists.

This suggests there is not only a market for the festival, but also that there is potential to further expand its audience. Experience with the Beltane Fire Festival further suggests there may be scope to promote more widely the other seven important events in the Celtic calendar.

Dr Ross Tinsley, Tourism Lecturer and Programme Leader at Edinburgh Napier University