Cologne carnival generates €600 million in economic value added

25 February 2020 5 min. read

Marking the start of the religious fast of Lent, Carnival season is in full swing across many Western European countries. According to a study by Boston Consulting Group in collaboration with Rheinische Fachhochschule Köln, the feast adds over €600 million in revenues to the coffers of Cologne.

Lent is an annual religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar, commencing on Ash Wednesday and ending roughly 40 days later on Holy Thursday. The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, doing penance, repenting for sins, giving to charity and acting selflessly. However, this solemn period of ‘fasting’ often commences with a flurry of indulgent feasting activities. In Western Europe, Carnival is the chief manifestation of this.

Carnival season has its roots in Christian tradition, and like Shrove Tuesday (also known as ‘Pancake Day’ in Commonwealth countries and Ireland), pancakes, donuts, and other desserts were prepared and eaten for a final time before Lent, when animal products are eaten less as part of the fasting period. This is about the only similarity between Shrove Tuesday and the parties occurring across mainland Europe, however.

The main events of Carnival typically involve public celebrations, including events such as parades, public street parties and other entertainments, combining some elements of a circus. The events feature elaborate costumes, and masks allow people to set aside their everyday individuality and experience a heightened sense of social unity – as well as a lack of self-consciousness regarding any over-indulgences. This means participants often indulge in excessive consumption of alcohol, meat, and other foods that will be forgone during the upcoming Lent.

Economic benefit of Cologne carnival

Carnival is especially popular in Germany, with broadwurst, balls and parades inviting people to engage in festivities, while people sing to traditional Schlager music and dance in halls, pubs and restaurants. While it is debatable whether this is something that ever crossed the mind of Jesus himself as he prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice at Easter, it is certainly good for the local economy.

The Carnival economy

How much Carnival can add to a local economy is illustrated by a recent study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), commissioned by the Köln Carnival Festival Committee. The research found that the economic value added to the city by Köln’s Carnival has increased by 30% in the last decade, standing at €596 million.

Compared to roughly 10 years ago, the hotel industry increased its sales by 43% compared to €63 million. Gastronomy and consumption increased by 34% to €257 million, and the textile industry now generates sales of €110 million, around 41% more.

“The study show how economically important the carnival is for Cologne and the entire region,” said Christoph Kuckelkorn, President of the Köln Carnival Festival Committee. “Gastronomy, hotel business and retail benefit from the constant influx of carnival enthusiasts from Cologne, the surrounding area and all of Germany.”

Alongside economic value, people see the feast as a unique traditional festival that also brings positive image and reputation effects to the city of Köln. Interestingly, despite the fact that Carnival is a century-long traditional, the survey found that even the very youngest generations are keen on celebrating the carnival in a very traditional and typical Cologne way.

Economic benefit of Cologne carnival over a decade

According to Silke Schönert, Director of the Institute for Project and Information Management at the Rheinische Fachhochschule Köln, the festivities also bring an important social awareness to the fore. “Carnival manages to connect people of different origins, and it makes an important contribution to the maintenance of customs,” he explained.

The level of civic engagement brought about by Carnival is illustrated by the swathes of volunteers that will support next year’s feast from its kick-off on the 11th of November, to the closing towards the end of February of the next year. Around 36% of people surveyed in Cologne said that they have already committed to volunteer at the Köln carnival in some capacity, while last year volunteers collected around €2 million for social purposes.

Jochen Schönfelder, a partner at BCG in Germany, added that as the economic value of carnival continues to grow, municapilities and Carnival Festival Committees should keep an eye on how they can become more relevant in a changing environment.

“Tapping into new target groups or better connecting with participants for example through digitisation, is one opportunity,” he said, concluding, “key is to maintain the balance between economic goals and the festival’s cultural heritage.”