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Front Gate

Park Bloggin’ by Dennis Speigel

Why winter could become your busiest season

One only has to look at 2015’s fourth quarter performance of the “big 5” operators to see that seasonal events contributed strongly to their total year’s performance. Of course, Disney has always had its Christmas

programme; it dates back 50 years. But, I wonder how many people remember that Kings Island in Cincinnati was the first US regional park (Holiday World, which was then Santa Claus Land in Indiana, notwithstanding) to introduce a seasonal Christmas event in 1982? I was part of the team, led by our marketing people, who came up with WinterFest. The idea was three-fold. One, we wanted to keep the Kings Island name in front of the people in the market long after the park closed in the fall. Two, we wanted to generate income in a period which had only known money going out the door. And, third, we wanted to develop a programme that would bring people to Kings Island who had never been to the park, such as grandmothers and grandfathers. During its first year, the only portion of the park that

was opened during WinterFest was International Street. In the 30-plus days that it operated, the event drew over 330,000 people and generated over $500,000 (remember, this was nearly 25 years ago!) after the initial expense was paid ; a huge success. From a marketing standpoint, what we created was

an event that the entire family – kids, teens, parents and grandparents – could come as a unit to visit. We marketed it in such a way as to say, indirectly, “If you do not bring your family to WinterFest, you are bad moms and dads.” It really worked. In 1985, after starting my company ITPS, I took the concept to my friends at Six Flags where we pitched them on the idea of Holiday in the Park. Our team designed and staged the first event at Six Flags Over Texas. It was an instant hit. People in Texas loved it and, 31 years later, it is still performing. Its success has been so evident that, through the years, Six Flags has added Holiday in the Park to six additional properties, and we believe there are more to follow. Halloween is the single largest special event

celebrated in our industry. Millions of guests rush to parks, with some events beginning as early as

September, and then running through until the end of October or early November. As Ron Miziker noted in these pages back in

February (, Knott’s Berry Farm in California started the trend back in 1973 with its “Knott’s Scary Farm” programme, then just a three-day event. Now a phenomenon in the industry, Halloween has spread to parks small, medium, and large. In 2014, it was estimated that Universal Studios Florida attracted over 600,000 guests for its Halloween Horror Nights. At Ocean Park in Hong Kong they do over a million. While Christmas and Halloween remain

tremendously successful for destination and regional theme parks, I believe we will see many more parks starting seasonal events around ancillary holidays that either fit into the existing operating calendar. With the creative teams that now exist in the themed entertainment world, and the continuing emergence of technology, expansion and extension of events is highly possible.

A good Halloween and Christmas event can make

or break a season, just as much the weather and, unlike the summer months, can actually thrive in spite of the weather. Guests have come to expect them to be bigger and better year after year, while parks have figured out that they can offer “up-charges” for certain aspects of their events – everything from special dining to entry into extra-scary haunted attractions. Seasonal events remain one of the most important

ways to increase attendance, revenues and guest loyalty. What was once a “fringe” part of our original season, has made the fourth quarter as an important part of the season as the peak third quarter. What have you got planned this winter?

Dennis Speigel is president of International Theme Park Services (, an independent full- service management/consulting firm based in Cincinnati, Ohio. During his 50+ year career in the amusement industry, Dennis has served in management positions with Kings Island, Kings Dominion and Taft Broadcasting Company’s Leisure Division, as well as a president of IAAPA.

Figures of Fun


pence (£0.12/$0.17/€0.15) – cost of sold-out special offer tickets to Thorpe Park near London. The promotional price was offered to reflect prices in 1871, when the park’s new Derren Brown’s Ghost Train attraction is set.


US dollars ($19.77/€17.30) – price of discount tickets to Wet ‘n’ Wild Orlando on March 13. Universal plans to close the park, which opened in 1977, as it builds a new Volcano Bay waterpark at Universal Orlando resort.


metres (65ft) – approximate length of “Britain’s biggest Hook-a-Duck game” at Adventure Island, Southend-on-Sea


RMB ($77/€67) – top price of a one-day ticket to Shanghai Disneyland. All tickets for opening day on June 16 sold out within hours of going on sale last month.


pounds (800,000 kg) number of turkey legs sold each year at Walt Disney World in Florida. The Orlando resort is to stop selling the meaty treat at its Animal Kingdom park, however.

APRIL 2016


24 26 28 50

32 20 38 41

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