Niles: Festivals level the playing field between Knott’s and Disney

Top companies in the theme park industry have recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic by leaning into one of the great secrets of business management.

You can get people to do anything, so long as they believe that it was their idea.

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What theme parks needed people to do after the lockdowns was to spend more money in the parks — a lot more money. Many have succeeded, as average guest spending has soared at top theme parks since they reopened. Sure, parks have raised prices on food, on souvenirs and on admission. But the theme park companies enjoying the greatest financial success in the past year also have found ways to entice fans to stay longer and buy more stuff when visiting their parks, too.

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Knott’s Berry Farm owner Cedar Fair last week reported record financial results that it attributed in part to the company’s focus on special events and food festivals during 2022. Knott’s has been running its Peanuts Celebration this month, to be followed by the return of its annual Boysenberry Festival in March.

Events such as these have proved across the country that they can entice fans to spend more on food and merchandise. Not only that, special events also can encourage fans to invite others and stay longer in the parks than they might if they were just focused on rides and shows. As one Theme Park Insider reader wrote, “it’s just a lot of fun to hang out with your friends at a familiar theme park while eating junk food and drinking beer.”

If a park can offer new stuff people want, they’ll spend the extra money without the complaints that just raising prices on the old stuff inevitably draws.

Not every theme park special event hits with fans, of course. Another business maxim says that ideas are worthless, it’s the execution of those ideas that delivers value. Just repackaging a park’s everyday food and entertainment as a “special event” won’t draw crowds and open wallets. And if a park isn’t already a familiar, beloved location for enough fans, special events likely will not be enough to build that relationship. Parks still need great rides, shows and environments to create the atmosphere in which fans will want to spend their time and money.

Knott’s has done that with its yearlong lineup of festivals, which Cedar Fair now has exported to many of its other parks across the country. Disney has been running a food and wine festival at Walt Disney World’s Epcot for decades and in recent years has expanded its festival lineups in Florida and California. The SeaWorld and Six Flags parks are leaning into festivals and events with varying success as they try to boost their guest spending numbers, too.

With Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood raising the bar to multibillion-dollar heights with attractions such as Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and Super Nintendo World, special events such as food festivals have helped level the playing field for parks such as Knott’s Berry Farm to compete for fans’ time and money.


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