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Time to celebrate

2022 is a big year for the industry, with Efteling, Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris all celebrating anniversaries with special programming – but are these events worth the investment? Kathleen LaClair, Partner at LDP, looks at the numbers


For the attractions industry, 2022 is a year of big events. Efteling theme park in the Netherlands is turning 70. Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, turns 50. Disneyland Paris hits the 30-year mark. In addition to big milestone celebrations, attractions globally are adding cultural celebrations, food and wine festivals, music events, holiday programming and more, hoping to increase brand awareness, guest volumes, member satisfaction, dwell time and spending. 

We assume these events have positive results in one form or another for the big operators, as events continue year after year. But what about more regionally focused attractions? Are the capital investments worth the effort to operate during off-hours and shoulder seasons? Do revenues from these events cover the costs? We take a look at the successes, challenges and the bottom line.

Spring and summer
Spring and summer time special events continue to gain popularity. At Philadelphia Zoo, seasonal programming has proven very effective in activating new visitation patterns during historically quieter times of the year and or day, according to Amy Shearer, chief marketing and guest experience officer. The zoo initiated special events such as its annual Summer Ale Festival, which is held just one evening each summer. At the Ale Festival, “guests can enjoy more than 100 award-winning seasonal craft beers and fresh, local fare from the region’s hippest food trucks”. At a time when the zoo would normally be closed, the event draws almost 5,000 guests who pay a premium admission price for access to the zoo experience as well as a wide range of beer and food samplings.

The zoo has introduced other ‘feature experiences’ which are limited engagements during the core season that create an additional buzz and added experiential element to the normal zoo visit. Examples of this include Creatures of Habitat, featuring life-size animal LEGO vignettes by artist Sean Kenney and X-tink-Shun and a wild puppet experience by the Jim Henson Company, described as an interactive call to action to save endangered species. At a recent featured experience, the zoo grossed an additional €1.5m ($1.5m, £1.3m) in special ticket revenue while at the same time driving the general admission gate and membership sales. Shearer says that on average a feature experience increases membership and daily admission sales by 15 percent.

The main challenge to hosting these events, according to Shearer, is the weather; a rainy evening or cold temperatures can make or break attendance at an outdoor event, so it’s a constant concern. Marketing budgets are spent to advertise events well in advance of the actual day and staffing time used for set-up can’t be recouped.

At Liseberg theme park in Gothenburg, Sweden, summer concerts attract big numbers of people, but not necessarily big profits. The average concert brings in about 250,000 guests or a total of two million during the summer season. According to CEO Andreas Andersen, though, while concerts can drive annual pass and food and beverage sales and are great at promoting their brand, they are typically a zero-sum game when it comes to profitability. So, in some instances, while the overall financial performance of a specific special event may not contribute significantly to the bottom line, the benefit can be seen in longer dwell times, increased guest spend, creating repeat visitors and purchases of annual passes.

Halloween and winter holiday events
Holiday events, typically Halloween and during winter, have become increasingly popular at a wide range of attractions, from theme parks to zoos. In many markets, these attractions are typically in their slower or even closed seasons; adding special holiday programming, especially in the evening, drives visits and spending when once there was none.

It’s almost impossible to visit a zoo during October and not be enticed to return for an evening of Boo at the Zoo. Prior to this trend zoos would almost always be closed during evening hours, as many species are sleeping or visibility in outdoor habitats is not conducive to night-time guests. The addition of Halloween and other holiday events creates not only new revenue streams during those seasons, but also increased value to existing members or those debating joining. A review of seasonal attendance across a selected number of zoos indicates that attendance at Halloween events typically total between five and 12 percent of overall annual visits and operators report that these events are often the highest ranked or most often mentioned in guest or member satisfaction surveys. 

In 2019, Philadelphia Zoo inaugurated a cold weather experience, LumiNature, an illuminated adventure for visitors that celebrates the beauty and diversity of wildlife during the holidays. While only in its third season, the zoo is already yielding an additional $2.5m (€2.6m, £2.2m) in sales each year and has established a special fund from its net profits to date in order to ensure LumiNature capital investments are future proofed as this program begins to take root.

Back at Liseberg, hosting holiday events has become increasingly important over the last 10 years. The park launched its Christmas event in 2000 and sees more than 400,000 visitors annually; the Halloween event, launched in 2015, sees 300,000 guests annually. On average, these visits represent between 10 and 15 per cent of Liseberg’s total annual attendance. The seasonal events have a significant impact on park operations and have delivered increased profitability over the years, due largely in part to strategic pricing, according to Andersen. The profit margin on the Christmas event is on average 15 per cent; the margin for the Halloween event is even stronger – between 22 per cent and 35 per cent annually.

Another benefit is guest satisfaction. Liseberg uses the Net Promoter Score (NPS) system to rate guest satisfaction and scores during the Halloween and Christmas seasons are approximately 10 per cent higher than responses gathered in the summer season.

The approach and execution of new programming at an attraction will depend on many factors, including specific focus for the market, weather or climate, current economic conditions and lessons learned from past successes or challenges.

Andersen’s advice for any attraction considering special programming? Do less – but do it right and keep focus. Don’t underinvest, especially not in the beginning. Grow the events organically, otherwise operational costs will override revenues. Make sure events align with your brand. Set aside sufficient funds for marketing. And lastly, target your local market; the tourists will follow. 

Kathleen LaClair is a partner at Leisure Development Partners. www.leisuredevelopment.co.uk

Walt Disney World in Florida is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021-22 Credit: Photo: Matt Stroshane
Seasonal programming can change visitation patterns Credit: Photo: PHILADELPHIA ZOO
Winter events can drive spend at times there was previously none Credit: Photo: LISEBERG
Seasonal events create increased value for existing members or those debating joining Credit: Photo: LISEBERG
Liseburg welcomes more than 400,000 people to its Christmas event each year Credit: Photo: LISEBERG
LumiNature at Philadelphia Zoo generates $2.5m in sales each year Credit: Photo: PHILADELPHIA ZOO
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Founded in 1966, the Antonio Zamperla SPA is privately owned by Mr Alberto Zamperla. Located in Vi [more...]
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Jobs    News   Products   Magazine
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Time to celebrate

2022 is a big year for the industry, with Efteling, Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris all celebrating anniversaries with special programming – but are these events worth the investment? Kathleen LaClair, Partner at LDP, looks at the numbers


For the attractions industry, 2022 is a year of big events. Efteling theme park in the Netherlands is turning 70. Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, turns 50. Disneyland Paris hits the 30-year mark. In addition to big milestone celebrations, attractions globally are adding cultural celebrations, food and wine festivals, music events, holiday programming and more, hoping to increase brand awareness, guest volumes, member satisfaction, dwell time and spending. 

We assume these events have positive results in one form or another for the big operators, as events continue year after year. But what about more regionally focused attractions? Are the capital investments worth the effort to operate during off-hours and shoulder seasons? Do revenues from these events cover the costs? We take a look at the successes, challenges and the bottom line.

Spring and summer
Spring and summer time special events continue to gain popularity. At Philadelphia Zoo, seasonal programming has proven very effective in activating new visitation patterns during historically quieter times of the year and or day, according to Amy Shearer, chief marketing and guest experience officer. The zoo initiated special events such as its annual Summer Ale Festival, which is held just one evening each summer. At the Ale Festival, “guests can enjoy more than 100 award-winning seasonal craft beers and fresh, local fare from the region’s hippest food trucks”. At a time when the zoo would normally be closed, the event draws almost 5,000 guests who pay a premium admission price for access to the zoo experience as well as a wide range of beer and food samplings.

The zoo has introduced other ‘feature experiences’ which are limited engagements during the core season that create an additional buzz and added experiential element to the normal zoo visit. Examples of this include Creatures of Habitat, featuring life-size animal LEGO vignettes by artist Sean Kenney and X-tink-Shun and a wild puppet experience by the Jim Henson Company, described as an interactive call to action to save endangered species. At a recent featured experience, the zoo grossed an additional €1.5m ($1.5m, £1.3m) in special ticket revenue while at the same time driving the general admission gate and membership sales. Shearer says that on average a feature experience increases membership and daily admission sales by 15 percent.

The main challenge to hosting these events, according to Shearer, is the weather; a rainy evening or cold temperatures can make or break attendance at an outdoor event, so it’s a constant concern. Marketing budgets are spent to advertise events well in advance of the actual day and staffing time used for set-up can’t be recouped.

At Liseberg theme park in Gothenburg, Sweden, summer concerts attract big numbers of people, but not necessarily big profits. The average concert brings in about 250,000 guests or a total of two million during the summer season. According to CEO Andreas Andersen, though, while concerts can drive annual pass and food and beverage sales and are great at promoting their brand, they are typically a zero-sum game when it comes to profitability. So, in some instances, while the overall financial performance of a specific special event may not contribute significantly to the bottom line, the benefit can be seen in longer dwell times, increased guest spend, creating repeat visitors and purchases of annual passes.

Halloween and winter holiday events
Holiday events, typically Halloween and during winter, have become increasingly popular at a wide range of attractions, from theme parks to zoos. In many markets, these attractions are typically in their slower or even closed seasons; adding special holiday programming, especially in the evening, drives visits and spending when once there was none.

It’s almost impossible to visit a zoo during October and not be enticed to return for an evening of Boo at the Zoo. Prior to this trend zoos would almost always be closed during evening hours, as many species are sleeping or visibility in outdoor habitats is not conducive to night-time guests. The addition of Halloween and other holiday events creates not only new revenue streams during those seasons, but also increased value to existing members or those debating joining. A review of seasonal attendance across a selected number of zoos indicates that attendance at Halloween events typically total between five and 12 percent of overall annual visits and operators report that these events are often the highest ranked or most often mentioned in guest or member satisfaction surveys. 

In 2019, Philadelphia Zoo inaugurated a cold weather experience, LumiNature, an illuminated adventure for visitors that celebrates the beauty and diversity of wildlife during the holidays. While only in its third season, the zoo is already yielding an additional $2.5m (€2.6m, £2.2m) in sales each year and has established a special fund from its net profits to date in order to ensure LumiNature capital investments are future proofed as this program begins to take root.

Back at Liseberg, hosting holiday events has become increasingly important over the last 10 years. The park launched its Christmas event in 2000 and sees more than 400,000 visitors annually; the Halloween event, launched in 2015, sees 300,000 guests annually. On average, these visits represent between 10 and 15 per cent of Liseberg’s total annual attendance. The seasonal events have a significant impact on park operations and have delivered increased profitability over the years, due largely in part to strategic pricing, according to Andersen. The profit margin on the Christmas event is on average 15 per cent; the margin for the Halloween event is even stronger – between 22 per cent and 35 per cent annually.

Another benefit is guest satisfaction. Liseberg uses the Net Promoter Score (NPS) system to rate guest satisfaction and scores during the Halloween and Christmas seasons are approximately 10 per cent higher than responses gathered in the summer season.

The approach and execution of new programming at an attraction will depend on many factors, including specific focus for the market, weather or climate, current economic conditions and lessons learned from past successes or challenges.

Andersen’s advice for any attraction considering special programming? Do less – but do it right and keep focus. Don’t underinvest, especially not in the beginning. Grow the events organically, otherwise operational costs will override revenues. Make sure events align with your brand. Set aside sufficient funds for marketing. And lastly, target your local market; the tourists will follow. 

Kathleen LaClair is a partner at Leisure Development Partners. www.leisuredevelopment.co.uk

Walt Disney World in Florida is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021-22 Credit: Photo: Matt Stroshane
Seasonal programming can change visitation patterns Credit: Photo: PHILADELPHIA ZOO
Winter events can drive spend at times there was previously none Credit: Photo: LISEBERG
Seasonal events create increased value for existing members or those debating joining Credit: Photo: LISEBERG
Liseburg welcomes more than 400,000 people to its Christmas event each year Credit: Photo: LISEBERG
LumiNature at Philadelphia Zoo generates $2.5m in sales each year Credit: Photo: PHILADELPHIA ZOO
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COMPANY PROFILES
IAAPA EMEA

IAAPA Expo Europe was established in 2006 and has grown to the largest international conference and [more...]
Clip 'n Climb

Clip ‘n Climb currently offers facility owners and investors more than 40 colourful and unique Cha [more...]
FORREC Ltd

We create guest experiences others don’t, masterplan like no one else can, and give the world’s bi [more...]
Antonio Zamperla Spa

Founded in 1966, the Antonio Zamperla SPA is privately owned by Mr Alberto Zamperla. Located in Vi [more...]
+ More profiles  
FEATURED SUPPLIER

Behind the Scenes of IAAPA Expo 2022 with Michael Shelton
There is no place like IAAPA Expo, it’s the place to take in the most exciting sights, smells, tastes, and sensations that will take your career and attraction to new heights! The excitement, energy and opportunity are palpable. [more...]
VIDEO GALLERY

Red Raion Showreel 2022
Last year was a blast! Find out more...
More videos:
ProSlide's all-in-one waterplay entertainment center – Proslide Tech Inc
Keynote | Moby Dick - Friends to the rescue! – Red Raion
Testimonial Richard Needham - SimEx-Iwerks Entertainment – Red Raion
+ More videos  

CATALOGUE GALLERY
+ More catalogues  
DIRECTORY
+ More directory  
DIARY

 

05-06 Mar 2023

CryoCON 2023

Renaissance at Plano Legacy West Hotel, Dallas, United States
10-12 May 2023

Asia Pool & Spa Expo

China Import & Export Fair Complex, China
+ More diary  
 


ADVERTISE . CONTACT US

Leisure Media
Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2023

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
LEISURE MEDIA MAGAZINES
LEISURE MEDIA HANDBOOKS
LEISURE MEDIA WEBSITES
LEISURE MEDIA PRODUCT SEARCH
ATTRACTIONS MANAGEMENT NEWS
ATTRACTIONS HANDBOOK
PRINT SUBSCRIPTIONS
FREE DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTIONS