Attendance for this year’s The Fair at the PNE in Vancouver’s Hastings Park has plummeted due to poor weather throughout much of this year’s event.
Earlier today, PNE staff released the attendance figures for this year’s event, which indicate the Fair had been experiencing above-average attendance during the first five days of the event. However, the windstorm and the resulting power outages, followed by even more consecutive days of cold and wet weather, caused the attendance trend to buckle.
Just 678,193 fairgoers were recorded during the 15-day Fair, almost 100,000 people less than 2014’s tally of 769,242 and about 34,000 less than the previous low of 712,049 in 2013. The Fair’s 10-year average attendance is 760,000, with a high of 958,781 in 2006.
This year’s attendance was achieved with four free gate admission days. Three of the free days were enacted to preempt low attendance numbers ahead of forecasts for rainfall and the windstorm.
Gate admission on Saturday, August 29 became free beginning at 3 p.m. after an earlier decision to shut down the fairgrounds due to the windstorm was rescinded.
“The first five operating days of the Fair saw the strongest attendance in a decade,” said PNE President and CEO Mike McDaniel in a statement. “We were tracking to have the best attendance in recent memory, but the wet weather that set in on the first Friday brought the coldest days in the city since spring.”
“Of course we do expect some rain during the Fair, but did not anticipate the impact that would be felt across our region after the rain hit Friday, the winds hit Saturday and the turbulent weather continued until the following Thursday.”
The PNE has faced immense challenges over the last 17 years after 200,000 square feet of historic indoor exhibition space was demolished by the City of Vancouver to make way for ‘The Sanctuary’ pond, green space and a skate park.
In 2004, the provincial government transferred the ownership and management of the PNE to the local municipal government, ending any taxpayer subsidies for the event. And just three years ago, the Fair was shortened from a 17-day event to a 15-day event that does not open during the first two Mondays.
Competition is another major factor given the relatively recent rise of major night markets and free festivals. There has also been growing criticism of the high prices and that the fairgrounds, rides and programming have become old, repetitive and dated.
An $80-million City-funded plan to revamp Hastings Park is moving forward, including $50 million for new rides and an expansion of PlayLand from 15 acres to 22 acres. But the full implementation of the renewal could still be almost two decades away, despite the need for such improvements today.
In the meantime, some near-term improvements on programming have been made over the last few years. Fair organizers maintain that 2015’s programming was a major success given the “overwhelmingly positive response” to a number of new shows and attractions. This was the third year of a five-year vision to re-energize the annual Fair.
Activities that revolve around The Fair are responsible for between $22 million to $25 million of the PNE’s annual revenues. PlayLand’s operations, outside of the Fair’s dates, account for about $12 million each year.