Published: January 29, 2015 at 10:50 AM
First, let's get out of the way any disappointment that Disney didn't announce some big new attraction for its 60th birthday. As theme park fans, we're insatiable. We always want new attractions! But let's consider the nature of a theme park's anniversary and how parks can take advantage of these events.
Disney Parks chairman Tom Staggs announcing the Diamond Celebration at Disneyland, last night.
Any park that wants to remain viable over time needs to be refreshing its attraction line-up with new rides and shows, whether it's celebrating an anniversary or not. While an anniversary provides a nice excuse for building a new ride, and might help amplify its publicity campaign, a new ride represents an investment in a theme park's future more than a celebration of its past. A great new ride will encourage fans to visit for years to come. But unless a fan is one who just has to ride something when it first opens, fans don't have any compelling reason to come visit during the anniversary year. The ride still will be there in future seasons.
Instead, let's consider the anniversary as an event unto itself. Seen this way, the point of the anniversary isn't to create a reason for someone to visit at some point in the future, it's to create a reason for someone to visit right now — during this anniversary season.
Disneyland's 50th, in 2005
Of course, a park that wants to have a successful anniversary, with lots of additional visitors, needs to create special, anniversary-only events and promotions that help entice those visits. So Disneyland's decision to rely on entertainment to celebrate its 60th makes sense. Beyond that, though, the specific shows that Disneyland has chosen to "plus" for its anniversary reveals something interesting about Disneyland's understanding of its audience.
Last night, Disneyland announced a new version of World of Color, an expanded fireworks and projection show, and a new "Paint the Night" parade. What do all of these shows have in common? They take place at night. And that reveals the smart move that Disney is making to take advantage of the 60th within its core audience.
Unlike its younger sibling Walt Disney World, Disneyland relies heavily on repeat visits from locals to drive its attendance. Disneyland sells hundreds of thousands of annual passes every year, which results in a sometimes radically different visitation pattern that theme park fans encounter when they visit the Walt Disney World Resort. Attendance levels at Disneyland reflect how many passholders are blocked out on any given day as much as they reflect the school vacation seasons that drive attendance at WDW. Longtime Disneyland visitors know to make their weekend visits on Saturdays instead of Sundays, due to the larger number of passholders being blocked out on Saturday, holding down attendance on that day. Sure, the week between Christmas and New Year's is the busiest of the year at Disneyland, as it is at Disney World. But for many years, some of the nest-busiest weeks of the year have been the ones in mid- to late-August when the Southern California and SoCal Select passes emerge from their summer blockouts, but before all local schools have opened. Meanwhile, in Florida, Disney World is enjoying some of its least-crowded weeks of the year during that time.
Disneyland's 40th, in 1995
On a day-to-day basis, the large number of local passholders often leads to a surge of visitors in the evenings, after work. Someone who's only visited Disney World before might be surprised to see the crowd at Disneyland not only fail to thin later in the day, but actually to get bigger. If you wanted to reward and encourage these fans during an anniversary season, a bunch of new nighttime shows would be the perfect way to do that.
With three new nighttime shows, the Disneyland Resort clearly is trying to encourage repeat visits during its anniversary season, so that guests can see all three. Not only that, the new "Disneyland Forever" fireworks show will include projection shows upon Sleeping Beauty's Castle, the Matterhorn, and the buildings of Main Street USA. With unique experiences in multiple locations around the park, fans will need to visit multiple times to experience them all.
This is the perfect way to reward loyal Disneyland passholders and to encourage other visitors who want to see all of these events to upgrade to an annual pass. Sure, the Diamond Celebration might entice some theme park fans from outside Southern California to make the trip to Disneyland later this year (or during the early part of the next) to be a part of the festivities. But Disneyland knows that its core audience is locals — and this Diamond Celebration is aimed at making them want to be part of the party.
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