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At Tomorrowland music festival, luxury can be a main event

  • Music festivals like Tomorrowland are catering to a younger generation choosing to spend big money on once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
  • Luxury accommodations and dining at Tomorrowland reflect changing appetites from the early days of live music events.
  • In an increasingly competitive field of live music festivals, events are going to extremes to attract customers willing to spend on a premium experience.

Music can be a sideshow to a luxury travel experience at Tomorrrowland music festival in Belgium.

The electronic dance music festival in the tiny Belgian town of Boom has become a can't-miss event that, for many, includes snacking on organic granola, relaxing in a luxury cabana, or taking a crossfit gym class.

Tomorrowland's popularity has exploded since it launched in 2005 with attendance topping 400,000 this year. The event is among a growing number of live music festivals catering to a younger generation with add-on experiences that extend far beyond the headline performers.

"It's beyond a festival," world-famous DJ Armin van Buuren told CNBC. "It's a music festival combined with a theme park combined with a food festival combined with a cultural event."

Music festivals like Tomorrowland are increasingly looking to millennials choosing to spend their extra cash on experiences instead of goods. Passes to the three-day festival, which spans over two weekends in July, cost roughly $260 in pre-sale and sell out in minutes.

Guests lucky enough to get tickets to Tomorrowland can pay to stay in DreamVille, a themed village on the festival grounds. Sleeping arrangements range from a regular tent to a private cabana with a sauna and 24-hour reception for more than $2000 for the weekend. DreamVille also features its own bakery, laundry bar, hair salon and workout facility.

Private cabanas at Tomorrowland are one way to enjoy the festival in luxury.
Benjamin Hall, CNBC
Private cabanas at Tomorrowland are one way to enjoy the festival in luxury.

A long way from Woodstock

The luxury accommodations mark a notable shift from the hippie counterculture of Woodstock nearly 50 years ago. Tomorrowland features 16 stages and more than 1,000 artists.

"When you think about how far music festivals have come over the years, from just a stage, maybe a stage in a city park, to a whole city embracing a whole production like this, it's just amazing," German-American DJ Markus Schulz said.

Dining at Tomorrowland also reflects changing appetites from the early days of live music events. More than 120 food stands feature meals ranging from organic salad from a local farm to authentic Belgian chocolate. VIP guests can even opt for a multi-course menu from a world-class chef at a restaurant overlooking the main stage.

"Lots of people are coming only once to Tomorrowland, and we want to give them a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Debby Wilmsen, a spokesperson for Tomorrowland.

For new artists, live music festivals are proving to be a crucial arena for getting in front of younger fans and their social media feeds.

"You get to reach the people that have probably never heard of you," said Atlanta-based DJ EU, who performed for his second time at the festival this year. "If they like you they'll become new fans or friends, and they'll follow you, they'll share it."

Artists say live music festivals are an important way to generate new fans.
Benjamin Hall, CNBC
Artists say live music festivals are an important way to generate new fans.

Business is booming in Boom

Tomorrowland's success has put Belgium in the global spotlight. Tomorrowland is fully owned by Manu and Michiel Beers, two Belgian brothers. The event employs 12,000 people during its run, and organizers estimate roughly $120 million (100 million euros) from the festival will feed directly back to the local economy.

"More than 10 years ago it was a small, niche festival," Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. "Today it's one of the biggest festivals in the world, and it's something we're proud of."

But the festival has struggled to expand its footprint outside of Belgium. A Tomorrowland concert in Barcelona this year was abandoned when the stage caught fire due to a technical malfunction. Separate Tomorrowland and TomorrowWorld festivals in the U.S. and Brazil were canceled after a couple of years. Organizers say it can be challenging to pair with local agencies that don't have the same experience running festivals as smoothly as the original Belgian-based team.

"Tomorrowland is a very difficult festival," spokesperson Debby Wilmsen said. "We need lots of manpower, lots of energy, lots of time. You cannot do this in one year. You really need the time to make it good in other countries, too."

Tomorrowland in Boom, Belgium is one of the biggest electronic dance music festivals in the world.
Benjamin Hall, CNBC
Tomorrowland in Boom, Belgium is one of the biggest electronic dance music festivals in the world.

More than just the music

In an increasingly competitive field of live music festivals, events are going to extremes to attract customers willing to spend on the exclusive experience. This competition is one reason why a handful of large companies dominate the music festival market, according to Chris Carey, CEO of research firm Media Insight Consulting.

"There are lots of small festivals that don't survive more than a couple of years," Carey said. "There's a lot of churn at the low-end of the market."

This churn has led to major consolidation in the industry. Live Nation Entertainment, for example, currently operates more than 100 music festivals around the world in genres ranging from classic rock to electronic music. Carey said the "corporatization" in the industry can be seen as ruining the feel of a small festival. But he said it also makes the experience more attractive to attendees as bigger companies have the resources to take risks on new experiences.

"I think it will continue to be highly competitive," Carey said. "Expectations are growing so people have to work faster in order to keep up."