Getting Into the Festival Spirit
Festivalization. It’s a word not recognized by Webster’s dictionary. Yet, the trend continues to spread worldwide. IAAPA Expo Europe devoted an EDUSession to examining how the lines are blurring between theme parks, attractions, and festivals.
Around the globe, events featuring music, food, and event art have proven to attract guests. Dollywood has events every season, from springtime’s Flower & Food Festival to a Harvest Festival each autumn, and a Smoky Mountain Christmas beginning in November.
Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco, Maine, has a night-time All Grown Up event where it opens the parks for adults. Särkänniemi in Tampere, Finland, offers adults-only concerts after hours. Dreamland in Margate, England, has a lively concert program. In Sweden, Gröna Lund has hosted artists including Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa, while Liseberg recently debuted a Klubb Karusell event.
Meanwhile, festival organizers are entering the attractions world. British music festival Boomtown recently opened Wake The Tiger, an indoor “Amazement Park” in Bristol, England. The Tomorrowland music festival has collaborated with Belgium’s Plopsaland De Panne to create The Ride to Happiness by Tomorrowland roller coaster inside a themed area with dining and retail offerings.
Usually, festival organizers must tear down everything they build within days. Now there is a Tomorrowland ride “that you can go on every day the park is open,” says Johnny Ruisch, creative director at Leisure Expert Group.
Leisure Expert Group designs experiences for Insomniac, the team behind EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival). When the pandemic hit, they created the Electric Mile, an illuminated drive-through attraction in California.
Walibi Boldly Goes Into Festivals
Walibi Holland in Biddinghuizen, Netherlands, quickly built a reputation as a festival epicenter. The theme park hosts annual music festivals, including Defqon.1 and Lowlands, on event grounds next to the park. But the park’s ambitions go much further. Its program of “festivalization” encompasses festivals inside the park and quirky, festival-inspired theming.
Mascha Taminiau, general director at Walibi Holland, believes “festivalization” helps the park stand out in a crowded market. Walibi Holland’s growth depends on retaining its teenage and young adult audience while also appealing to families with children. “We build different rides and spend time, money, and energy on distinctive events like Fright Nights and Bright Nights,” she says.
At Walibi Holland, you can “have it all in one day,” explains Bianca Leemrijse, events and entertainment manager. Guests can ride roller coasters, dine in the park, do some shopping, then rock with DJs and enjoy fireworks displays after dark.
“The best thing about ‘festivalization’ is you can change it out,” Ruisch says. Walibi Holland updates its festival decor every six to seven years. Repeat visitors appreciate the changes. “We always want to do something different for our guests,” Leemrijse says.
Freedom to Experiment
Time-limited festivals provide opportunities to experiment. “We can be bold,” Leemrijse says. Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter. Scott Bravenboer from Walibi Holland is proud of how the park transformed its bumper cars into a dance club. “Sometimes, we greet our guests by doing ‘Good Morning Gymnastics.’ We also made our Chance Rides train a party train,” he adds.
Ruisch points to the success of Winter Efteling: “People love the coziness, the Gluhwein, and the entertainment.” The festive event has helped the Efteling theme park in Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands stay open 365 days a year.
Ruisch advises operators to ask themselves, “What can we improve?” For example, he sees new technologies impacting the festival business. “A lot of things are video-driven or drone-driven, and there are new types of fireworks,” he explains. While festivals can be a valuable testing ground, he also urges caution.
“Don’t reinvent the wheel,” he advises. “Learn from others that have been doing this for a long time.” September is an ideal month to see if the “great idea you have is really so great,” Taminiau says.
Fresh, festival-style line-ups can also relieve the financial investment for an attraction to add new rides and attractions every year. Festival offerings can also attract different audiences and add a refreshed personality to a park.