Sense of Occasion
For a limited time, attractions guests might find themselves playing with drum bands, savoring boysenberry delicacies, entering into the carnival spirit, or even discovering their inner mermaid as the surge in festivals and special events continues worldwide.
Pleasure seekers have never had so many options, as parks fill their calendars with enticing reasons to plan an additional visit. Operators can use special events to stay on consumers’ radar, attract different audiences, and create a sense of FOMO, or the fear of missing out.
The following examples of diverse festivals from around the globe are designed to provide value and the feeling of urgency that can drive attendance at attractions.
Revving Up a Limited-Time Party
Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. plans to wow guests with two new experiences this year. “Grand Carnivale” and “Monster Jam Thunder Alley” will travel to multiple parks for just a few weeks at a time, providing guests with a new reason to visit, according to Brent Barr, corporate vice president of entertainment.
“We look forward to attracting new audiences into our parks and driving that urgency to visit, as these are time-limited events,” Barr says.
“Grand Carnivale” rolls into Kings Dominion and Kings Island (June-July), Worlds of Fun (July-August), and Dorney Park (July-August). “Monster Jam Thunder Alley” will make a pit stop at Kings Dominion (July-September) and Dorney Park (September-November) after premiering at Cedar Point (May 18-June 30).
“‘Grand Carnivale’ gives our guests another summertime immersive experience, similar to ‘Haunt’ or ‘WinterFest,’” says Barr. The event is designed to attract guests earlier in the season, when busy people feel they can wait before scheduling time for a summer visit. “This event is unlike anything Cedar Fair has done before.”
“Grand Carnivale” consists of three distinct parts. Festivities kick off daily at 5 p.m. as park venues transport guests to China, France, Germany, India, and Italy with authentic food, drinks, and entertainment. Dusk marks the start of the “Spectacle of Color” parade, featuring costumed performers and floats by designers Kern Studios and 3dx. Once the parade ends, the King of Carnivale launches a nighttime street party. The three-part strategy works in concert to keep guests entertained longer.
“It’s a choreographed experience where we get guests to perform with us,” explains Barr. “The parade is a big show.”
In addition, Cedar Fair is teaming up with Feld Entertainment to serve up a giant-sized helping of fun with “Monster Jam Thunder Alley.”
“We are providing our guests with an up-close look at a ‘Monster Jam’ experience in new and different ways that they can’t get at an arena show or pit party. There’s a more interactive feel to the whole experience,” says Barr.
The new in-park-only experience will place guests alongside professional drivers in customized 10-passenger, off-road trucks as they drive over a freestyle course. Fan-favorite trucks—including Grave Digger and Megalodon—will be ready for action in social media snaps.
“Monster Jam Garage” takes guests behind the scenes, allowing them to see and touch engines, tires, transmissions, and shocks. As a retail opportunity with an additional fee, guests can build their own mini-trucks to take home, while the experience zone will provide physical play areas for children.
“’Monster Jam’ has legions of fans. This is a great opportunity to work with Feld’s branding experts and bring some new IP (intellectual property) into our parks,” adds Barr. Both festivals are included with park admission, while rides in a monster truck will require an additional ticket.
Berry Good News
The sights and tastes of spring appeal to the senses at Knott’s Berry Farm. “Knott’s Boysenberry Festival” has blossomed from a two-week, springtime festival into a month-long celebration of boysenberry goodness.
Success comes after Cedar Fair built a unique food festival around its own agricultural history that’s gained the park traction on social media.
“Foodies love telling their followers on social media about our delicious food offerings, and we see that continuing to increase,” explains Diana Bahena, Knott’s public relations representative. “Instagrammable locations in the park are very popular—because of that, we’ve created fun and interactive photo opportunities for guests to share with their friends online.”
Each social media post generates buzz of boysenberry-inspired treats rooted in Knott’s past.
The boysenberry—a cross between a raspberry, a loganberry, and a blackberry—was named by park founder Walter Knott after his friend Rudolph Boysen experimented with the new strain of berry in the early 1930s.
Almost 90 years later, entrance to “Knott’s Boysenberry Festival” is included with park admission and season passes. Guests can tickle their taste buds by buying a $35 tasting card, which allows them to try some of the 75 boysenberry-infused dishes. These can only be found during the festival, strengthening the “sense of exclusivity.”
To keep the event fresh, Knott’s team evolves the concept annually, adding new sweet and savory foods, changing up live shows, and offering limited-edition merchandise and boysenberry-inspired products in an artisan craft fair.
“Knott’s Boysenberry Festival” is one of six seasonal events at the park that include “Knott’s Peanuts Celebration,” “Knott’s Summer,” “Knott’s Spooky Farm” for families, “Knott’s Scary Farm” for teens and adults, and “Knott’s Merry Farm.” Each event offers seasonally themed food, photo opportunities, live entertainment, and fun activities.
“We like to leverage these events to other parks where they make sense,” says Barr. “The ‘Peanuts Celebration’ started last year at Knott’s Berry Farm, and in 2019, we’re bringing this successful event to Valleyfair in Minnesota, home territory for ‘Peanuts’ creator Charles M. Schulz.”
Everland in Yongin, South Korea, is known for its seasonally themed festivals. Visitors flock to its “Tulip Festival” and “Rose Festival” in the spring. Each year, the gardens have a different theme; Dutch artist Piet Mondrian is the inspiration for 2019.
The team responsible for Everland’s content believes festivals and special events make the park livelier. Unlike fixed attractions, Everland discovered festivals can be changed frequently to increase competitiveness and enhance guest satisfaction. Everland gained a reputation for pioneering new festival concepts in Korea, and the team hopes to diversify festival content for guests of all ages in future. There are also plans to collaborate with other brands.
Everland’s “Summer Water Fun” festival cools visitors down in the hot and humid months. Zombies take over the park in autumn with the arrival of “Halloween Blood City.” Everland brings “Christmas Fantasy” to life with festive attractions and illuminations, while its “Snow Park” festival offers a “Snow Buster” sledding experience and “Snow Playground.” Alfresco festivals are popular, too. Guests can enjoy barbecue food, beer, and music at the “Red & Grill BBQ Festival” and “Spring on Spoon” garden food festival.
Creating Curated Experiences
“Creativity is a must in product creation,” says Michelle Sonia Gregory, director of marketing at Sunway Lagoon in Malaysia.
The park scored a hit in December with the month-long “It’s Wipeout” program, which challenged guests to tackle a “Wild Water Run” floating obstacle course. The “Mermaids Alive” experience made a splash during the March school holidays, with meet-and-greets, mermaid makeovers, and swimming with mermaids.
Sunway Lagoon’s most successful event, in terms of attendance, revenue, and media coverage, is “Nights of Fright”: “the biggest and scariest festival in Malaysia.” The annual event runs on weekends throughout October. The special event “creates a night experience in a day-operating park” and “continues to increase in popularity,” says Gregory.
Sunway Lagoon’s campaigns for key periods such as seasonal and school holidays are “specially curated to shape experiences, drive awareness and engagement, and maximize footfall,” according to Gregory. Festivals ignite people’s interest, whether they are celebrated locally or globally. All events are supported with themed décor, activities, performances, and giveaways.
Listening to Guests
Mermaids also swam into Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in March with the arrival of the month-long “Mermaid Adventures.”
“We design special events and occasions to match guests’ interests,” explains Leander Werner de Wit, general manager of Yas Waterworld.
With “Mermaid Adventures,” Yas Waterworld’s team saw an opportunity to bring “kids’ fantasies to life.”
“[It’s] the perfect example of Yas Waterworld’s aim to offer our guests a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience,” says de Wit.
The water park enchanted guests with a live show starring mermaids, mermaid encounters, a mermaid school, photo opportunities, and a mermaid boutique.
“We depend on guests’ feedback to shape our events,” he continues. “Ladies Season,” which presents 29 ladies-only events, is an example of how Yas Waterworld tailors products to reflect local demand and values.
“Events such ‘Dana’s Spooktacular,’ ‘Neon Nights,’ ‘Cinema Under the Stars,’ and the ‘Festival of Light’ have also evolved,” says de Wit. “Each caters to guests from around the world who come to immerse themselves in seasonal festivities with an Emirati twist.”
Eat to the Beat
“Festivals and special events give us the opportunity to provide guests with fresh entertainment and experiences throughout the season—and from year to year,” says Wes Ramey, Dollywood’s senior public relations manager.
This spring’s “Festival of Nations” presented two new headline shows, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba and Drumstruck, an African-themed interactive show where guests had their own drums and participated with the group performing on stage. Outside the theater, “Passport to Food” introduced new tastes during a culinary tour of international cuisine.
“Every time guests visit within the season, they are going to leave with great memories that are uniquely Dollywood,” says Ramey. “Those memories are what keep them coming back year after year.”
Five annual festivals each provide a unique feel and atmosphere to the park, Ramey says.
“Our ‘Smoky Mountain Christmas’ festival is consistently recognized as the best in the industry, while our ‘Barbeque & Bluegrass’ festival and ‘Harvest Festival’ let guests experience hundreds of free concerts,” says Ramey.
The “Festival of Nations” provides a wealth of world music in the spring, while “Summer Celebration” creates value with extended operating hours and a nightly fireworks finale.
Identifying a New Audience
Movie Park Germany achieved its best results yet in 2018 with its “Halloween Horror Festival.” “Visitor numbers increased by 9% versus the last year,” says general manager Thorsten Backhaus.
The park has taken its cue from the festivals industry to develop the Halloween event further. “We introduced a DJ from the famous German ‘Parookaville’ music festival,” Backhaus says. “We had an Irish live band playing on stage on Saturdays. We added more theming and special effects in the Halloween areas. We created specific scare zones and also added a new maze inspired by the film ‘Wrong Turn.’”
Movie Park Germany hosts its second “Cosplay Day” on June 15 for those visiting in costume, after launching the event in 2018. Cosplayers can dress up, show off their costume-making skills, and become superhuman characters for the day.
“The ‘Cosplay Day’ fits with the park’s film theming. It is a real eye-catcher for visitors, and it speaks to the cosplay community,” says Backhaus. A cosplay contest and a parade through the park are among the activities on offer.
Fireworks Pop the Gate
Special events are a growing part of Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s business.
“They enhance the experience and are key drivers of attendance and secondary spend,” says Stephen Burton, public relations executive at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Blackpool’s main events include “Late Night Riding & Fireworks,” where guests can ride the night away on coasters including the “Big One” and “Grand National” before fireworks light up the skies eight times a year.
“Halloween in Blackpool” is another big crowd-pleaser. The team plans to extend and expand the event this year with additional content.
“This will keep our offer fresh and encourage guests to return for new experiences,” says Burton.
The park hosts character-themed activities every month at Nickelodeon Land. Also, in response to the British boom in outdoor cinema, Blackpool Pleasure Beach shows movies on a giant outdoor cinema screen in a “Summer Screen” season. Plans are underway to launch a food and drink festival.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s team knows the value of layering festivals and special events onto existing offerings to create combinations of entertainment, food, and atmosphere that attract repeat visitors.