Holland’s Tulip Time festival is canceled, but organizers are looking to retool for 2021 | Michigan Radio
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Holland’s Tulip Time festival is canceled, but organizers are looking to retool for 2021

May 1, 2020

For more than 90 years, the city of Holland has been celebrating its Dutch heritage with the annual Tulip Time festival. A sea of tulips as well as activities like parades draws hundreds of thousands of attendees every year. But thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, there will be no Tulip Time this year. So what happens when a city's biggest annual event gets canceled?

Gwen Auwerda is executive director of the Holland Tulip Time festival. She said the process of unwinding the festival is quite difficult. It involves making a lot of difficult phone calls, requesting security deposits back, and refunding early-bird ticket sales. Some patrons are donating their early bought tickets to the festival fund, but Auwerda said that will only go so far. 

“When your entire income for a year goes away so quickly, it’s the fundraising’s the only option that we have right now. We fill out the all the SPA loans and PPP loans from the CARES Act. That’s all I’m spending my time on right now,” Auwerda said. “It’s dicey. It’s hard.”

The festival has a huge role in supporting small businesses and restaurants in Holland. In 2018, the Tulip Time Festival conducted an economic impact study to record how much new money is brought into Holland during the festival. According to Auwerda, approximately 500,000 people come out for the festivities and collectively spend $48 million around the city.

Auwerda is hoping that they can have the Tulip Time Festival again in 2021, but she's not sure exactly what the event will look like given the uncertainty around COVID-19. Usually, they would be contracting entertainers for the next festival, but she said they are waiting for updated CDC guidelines.

“The parade route is just packed with people side by side, shoulder to shoulder, through the entire route, and that’s going to be a little harder to manage when you’ve got an outdoor public event like that, and you can’t control where people stand, walk or sit,” Auwerda explained.

Auwerda is part of the World Tulip Society, which puts on large flower festivals across the world. Some cities like Keukenhof, outside of Amsterdam, are setting up virtual tours, and Auwerda recommends the tour for all “tulip junkies.” She said she is staying optimistic about the 2021 Tulip Time Festival, and using this time as an opportunity to rethink the operations of a large scale public festival in the time of COVID-19. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.