Towns, villages and cities are increasingly keen to share their culture, environment and spending opportunities with visitors by the promotion of festivals. The fact that income can be generated by such festivals is clear but the true value of visitor spend is more complex to calculate with accuracy. This paper considers the contribution of festival tourism to sustainable local economic development. A festival typology is created that broadly identifies three festival types termed ‘home-grown’, ‘tourist-tempter’ and ‘big-bang’. Here three festivals matching the typology are analysed against the model of sustainable local economic development activity created by the environment charity Forum for the Future. Results suggest that although festivals may have the potential to provide opportunities for sustainable local economic development such opportunities frequently remain unexploited. Nevertheless, some festival scenarios do indicate a closer match to the model of sustainable local economic development activity than others. This paper analyses why this should be and suggests ways in which festival tourism’s contribution to local economies might begin to be better understood, and consequently, improved.