One segment of U.S. travel and attraction marketing that still strikes fear in competitors around the world.

August 31, 2011

America is the world's leading exporter of theme park thrills. Copyright 2010 Tricycle, The Buddhist Review

America leads the world in theme park attendance. And the Disney brand is the category’s largest exporter,  attracting more than 3 times the worldwide visitors of its next closest competitor.

Our top 20 parks got twice as many visitors as their top 20.

The latest numbers are in, and America is dominating Europe and Asia in a category that demands the latest high-tech wizardry and design genius.

I’m not talking about computers or flat screen TVs or electric cars. I’m talking about theme parks.

According to the Themed Entertainment Association‘s (TEA) latest Global Attractions Attendance Report, twice as many visitors attended America’s top 20 theme parks than Europe’s top 20.

Half of the world’s top 25 theme parks are made in America.

In total, the top 20 American theme parks attracted 121.4 million visitors last year, compared to  just over 60 million for the top 20 European theme parks, and 60 million for Asia’s top parks.

Almost half of the top 25 theme parks in the world are located here in America, and nearly 70% of the top 25 parks worldwide are American brands.

American theme parks draw twice the attendance of those in Europe and Asia.

Disney is America’s largest exporter of U.S.-styled parks.

Worldwide, American-born Disney Attractions ranks as the #1 theme park chain by a long shot, attracting 119 million visitors to its parks in America, Europe and Asia.  To give those numbers some context, Disney attracts more visitors than its next four competitors combined.

There are three ways  American theme parks dominate the category worldwide:

Marketers of travel and attraction brands can learn three lessons from American theme parks:

1.  Innovation

This year dozens of new attractions are opening at theme parks across the country.  And larger parks are constantly pushing the envelop and trying new ideas.

2. Licensing

American theme parks like Universal have licensed and collaborated with creators of  blockbuster movies to bring those movies to life in vivid detail.

3. Exporting

Disney was the first theme park to realize other countries would buy an American “import”. Since then, Six Flags and Universal Studios have learned the rules of the road.

What have you learned from America’s top theme parks?  How could you incorporate that thinking into the marketing of your travel or attraction brand?


Travel Marketing: How Universal Orlando used marketing magic to put a spell on Muggles.

July 8, 2010

Universal pulled out all the stops to market Harry Potter to America.

In the months leading up to the  opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal created a TV documentary, Super Bowl ad, augmented reality site, You Tube video, and more.


Universal turned its cameras on itself.

Months before the park opened,  Universal created a “Making Of” documentary devoted to making an emotional connection in people’s minds between the beloved movies and the new theme park.

TV campaign aired on the Super Bowl.

At about the same time, Universal launched a brand campaign that linked Harry Potter with other park stars such as Spider-Man and Shrek. One of the spots aired on the 2010 Super Bowl.

Web strategy included augmented reality site.

To generate internet chatter in the weeks leading up to the opening, Universal invited media outlets to tour the facilities.

They allowed the media to film and post You Tube videos of their tours. Some of my favorites were done by Orlando’s Attractions magazine.

To give people a sense of what the park would feel like long before it was finished, the studio created a special website with an augmented reality feature.

Repurposing content for You Tube.

As the date grew closer, Universal rebroadcast its Super Bowl TV spot on Attractions magazine’s You Tube Channel, and as of today, has generated over 127,000 views.

To keep the buzz going, Universal posted clips of the TV documentary on its website and You Tube, complete with interviews with the stars of the movie.

Final blitz  featured online and social.

In the weeks leading up to the opening, Universal invited media outlets to tour the facilities and allowed them to film and post their own You Tube videos of their tour.

Instead of doing a corporate social media plan, they let loyal Harry Potter fans create their own facebook pages to discuss the event.

Universal pulled out all the stops on this launch, took some daring risks, and has built a monument to magic that’s going to keep people whistling with delight for years.


How Harry Potter helped U.S. travel marketing take a giant leap forward.

July 7, 2010

The curtain went up in a big way on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

When the Harry Potter inspired attraction at one of America’s best theme parks opened to the general public,  the enchantment wizards and witches at Universal Orlando did not disappoint.

The most highly anticipated theme park attraction in years.

Although dozens of new attractions opening at theme parks across the U.S. every year, none created as much anticipation, or delivered as much on expectations as Universal did when it opened its Harry Potter attraction.

What’s included in the attraction.

The creators of this $200 million theme park within a theme park spared no expense to immerse visitors in detailed and exacting re-creations of Hogsmeade, the mythical village of the wizardry world.

These include the Hogworts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the streets and shops of Hogsmeade.

There’s also a working version of The 3 Broomsticks, a pub that serves Muggles the same food and drink Harry enjoys, like Butter Beer.

How The Wizarding World re-created Harry Potter’s world.

The park achieved visual parity with the Harry Potter movies by enlisting the services of Alan Gilmore, art director for all 4 Potter movies.

According to Gilmore, “Overall, I think the detail, the absolute rigorous pushing of detail is beyond compare.  Everything is correct.  Our mantra was authenticity.”

Here’s the best part.

The opening roused Disney, that slumbering dragon of theme park magic, and ignited a new war of inspiration between these two entertainment leviathans.

Which is leading to a whole new generation of breathtaking, movie-inspired attractions.

If you’re a travel and attraction marketing professional, make a note of this event. And vow to use The Wizarding World of Harry Potter as inspiration to raise the bar for bravery and innovation in your little corner of the travel and attraction kingdom.

The most powerful online leisure marketing machine is not a machine at all. It’s Lady Gaga.

June 27, 2010

Lady Gaga has become the queen of online marketing.

Lady Gaga is the most popular celebrity online. And a walking case study in integrated online leisure marketing.

Lady Gaga:  An online brand that’s gaining audience share every month.

If you asked me today to name a leisure brand that best links web and social media tools into one powerful marketing machine, my answer would be a person:  Lady Gaga.

This self-professed “fame monster” leverages 3 different websites, her own facebook, myspace and buzznet pages, a twitter feed and a youtube channel to gain millions of fans and sell millions of songs.

Lady Gaga by the numbers:

Last month, Lady Gaga added 1.5 million facebook fans, 483,130 twitter followers, and 19,213 youtube subscribers, bringing her online following to:

Lady Gaga uses every trick in the online and social media strategy book:

1.  Her sites contain compelling content.

Her web and social sites are jammed with stunning costumes, videos, photos, interviews and  articles.

3. Each site has a great breadth and depth of content.

Every day, her sites post new information on her concert tours, interviews with the press, photos of a recent video shoot, and more.

Each site is visually and verbally rich in content.

4.  Content is shared between sites.

She has 8 different web and social sites.  And although each one has original content, all of these sites share common content.

5.  All of the content is sharable by fans.

When you press the “share” button,  280 different bookmarking and sharing sites show up! And she links to other musicians’ sites.

6.  Each site makes it easy to purchase music and merchandise.

You’re never more than 1 or 2 clicks away from purchasing your favorite song, t-shirt or co-branded product.

7.  There are plenty of places for fans to talk about her.

Her sites are full of chat, comment and discussion features.

I counted 125,000 posts on this site alone!

8.  There is an underlying strategy holding it all together.

Each site has its own audience and purpose. Yet they work together to feed the insatiable appetite of fans.


Leisure marketing: How Hallmark saved another Fathers’ Day.

June 19, 2010

The Hallmark home page offered me dozens of choices. is redefining online leisure marketing with the latest e-card technologies, including clips from popular TV shows and movies, augmented reality and video chat.

I come from a family of 10, but I’ve never been very good at sending cards to them.

By the time I remember to send the card out, it’s usually too late.    So when I got an e-mail invitation to purchase an annual subscription to for $9.95 a year, I signed up immediately. has created a whole new market for greeting cards.

I like to call the segment  they are appealing to “procrastinators with a conscience.” We’re the guys who wait until the last minute, at which time we suddenly remember  how much we care. And will pay anything to get our gifts there.

This year I didn’t panic when Fathers’ Day came.

A couple of days before the big day, sent me the reminder email you see below. The truth is I didn’t even remember I had that Hallmark subscription until I got my reminder email.  But when I got it, I just logged into my account and sent my dad his card.

Hallmark e-mailed this reminder 2 days before Fathers' Day.

Hallmark has made their e-cards easy to preview and fill out.

The site has done a good job of creating co-branded cards promoting popular movies, TV shows and comic books. Today they were featuring Fathers’ Day cards promoting scenes from Iron Man 2, Superman, Indiana Jones and Modern Family.

It just takes a minute to preview cards, and personalizing them is easy.

If you’re a CMO doing online leisure marketing, consider these tips.

If you sell a product that is a popular gift item at your bricks and mortar store, ask yourself if there is a way to distribute it digitally and instantly.

The most obvious products that work for this type of approach are software, books, gift certificates and memberships.

And if you’re a last minute card sender like me, give yourself a break and sign up for the Hallmark site.


Leisure Marketing: HBO’s “True Blood” Social Launch is “True Genius.”

June 13, 2010

One of 12 True Blood collectible posters only available to Facebook fans

To announce the start of season 3 for the cult cable show True Blood, HBO created a brilliant digital and social strategy that raised the excitement level among loyal Facebook fans to a fever pitch.

You may think HBO overdid it, but True Blood’s 4.8 million Facebook fans didn’t.

The season premier of True Blood, HBO’s hit series about vampires who “come out of the coffin” thanks to a synthetic blood drink called True Blood, opened last night to rave reviews from fans, and loud groans from people who just don’t get it.

The HBO marketing machine saturated the digital world with their blood-red social antics, which stirred their 4.8 million Facebook fan base into a frenzy, and drove the rest of the social world crazy.

Regardless of how feel about the show, if you’re a CMO plotting your next big leisure marketing campaign using social media, this is one of those strategies that is teaching the rest of the online world a much-needed lesson in how to push the boundaries of this emerging medium.

Using random (and unexpected) advocacy websites to re-launch the brand for a new season.

Months before the opening, True Blood Truebies, as HBO likes to call dedicated fans of the show, discovered and chatted incessantly about websites like the The American Vampire League which allowed them to download flyers, banners and t-shirt decals proclaiming their support of Vampire Rights, and featured a whole page of logos of vampire-friendly brands.

There was a site that allowed fans to purchase the beverage that lent the show its name.  HBO even pushed the limits of  traditional digital ad formats with the best pre-iAd rich media ad yet in’s iPhone app.

HBO saved some of their best online tactics for Facebook and Twitter.

Creating fresh content for the social media space gave fans a whole other reason to believe. This including:

  • An exclusive series of 12 collectible posters (see above for an example)
  • A Facebook-only Ultimate Truebie contest which gave fans a chance to win $5,000 and host the ultimate Season 3 Finale Party
  • A Twitter-only feed featuring an ultimate fan event staged at 50 theaters across the country
  • Mini webisodes to keep  rabid fans frothing for more
  • And my personal favorite, an hilarious video apology  to the people who complained about over-saturating the web and blogosphere with their digital marketing campaign, which you can see here.

Leisure marketing at its viral best: Hi-Tec Sports

June 12, 2010

Are you interested in using viral video as part of your leisure marketing mix?  “Liquid Mountaineering” by Hi-Tec Sports, an English manufacturer of waterproof shoes and hiking boots, is a textbook study on how to produce viral right.  No wonder this video got over 4 million views worldwide.

There are 3 crucial elements that makes this video work:

1. Hi-Tec has a great product with a simple benefit.

2. They chose an agency who had developed great broadcast for another leisure brand.

3. They created a scenario that fascinated outdoor enthusiasts.

Of course there’s a lot more work that goes into producing successful viral campaigns than just good production. According to a recent case study from go viral, one of the world’s most successful viral video production companies, they use the following strategy to help their clients’ videos go viral.

Go viral’s four stages to a successful viral campaign strategy:

  1. Create intriguing content that speaks the language of your target audience.
  2. Use Comscore, Technorati, and other site ranking tools to find the most popular and influential websites, blogs and forums to your target audience.
  3. Seed your video in the most relevant online environments, and reach out to online influencers who are most likely to stimulate interest among a larger community.
  4. Continually maintain and activate the content in broader video sharing and social environments, to generate the momentum necessary to reach critical mass.

Before you shift all your leisure marketing budget over to viral, be aware that even with the best advice, the odds of your video going viral are  completely unpredictable. That’s according to Tim Hwang, an internet culture expert who was recently interviewed by CNN for their article “What makes videos go viral?”.

Which is not surprising when you consider that people have uploaded more content to You Tube  in the last 60 days than the 3 original television networks have produced in the last 60 years.

Want to see how Hi-Tec helped their athletes walk on water?  Watch “The making of Liquid Mountaineering” video.


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