ANAHEIM, Calif. — Thematic food? Check. Special drinks? Check. Exclusive merchandise? Check. Limited-run entertainment, big and small? Check and check. 

Specially themed festivals at theme parks offer unique experiences for guests, often at no additional cost outside of park admission (except, of course, for those snacks and T-shirts).

And for advisors who sell theme parks, limited-run festivals and events offer not only an opportunity to collect and post fresh marketing content that might attract a particular subset of travelers but can be the final piece that closes a sale.

The festivals come in many forms and can vary by year. Some of the most popular, like the Walt Disney World Resort’s Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, take place annually, but some happen more sporadically. Most recently, the Disneyland Resort here debuted Pixar Fest for the first time since its inaugural run in 2018.

The pickle milkshake and impossible Buffalo chicken tenders from Brew-Wing Lab at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in 2023.

The pickle milkshake and impossible Buffalo chicken tenders from Brew-Wing Lab at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in 2023. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

“We love to give our trade partners something new to share with their clients, especially when it’s a limited-time offering or a limited-time event,” said Lynn Clark, vice president of sales and services at Disneyland Resort.

A number of trade partners were invited to preview Pixar Fest before it officially began, gathering content to share with clients and prospects. Disney also provides travel advisors content to use in marketing and social media, and Clark said the company hosts groups of agents on social media fam trips. 

The Disneyland Resort took a different tack this year: It provided trade partners with its calendar of events at the beginning of 2024 to help agencies plan marketing initiatives.

“They could also sell further in advance,” Clark said. “It was really, really well received.”

Susanne Hays, owner and president of Fairytale Journeys Travel in Alexander City, Ala., said having the calendar in advance has been helpful. And Pixar Fest in particular provides a unique selling point for Disneyland. Hays predicted it will help move the needle for clients who live on the East Coast and more typically opt to spend their summer vacations at Orlando’s Walt Disney World. A festival centered around such popular films and characters will likely be enough to draw them to the West Coast.

At Fairytale Journeys, she said, advisors can pull from a central directory of content gathered at events like Pixar Fest. While the content has the agency logo on it, advisors can customize the messaging around it, often with links to their own quote forms or the like.

“Not everybody is able to go to all these things,” Hays said. “That’s one thing that’s great about our agents — we’re big on sharing the content with our advisors, and they’re good about sharing it with us. It’s a win-win for both.”

At Small World Vacations in Washington Township, N.J. (No. 61 on Travel Weekly’s Power List), trip reports are also shared among advisors, president and founder Sue Pisaturo said.

Pisaturo will share her report from Pixar Fest, and while it’s not mandatory for her agents to share their own trip reports agency-wide, they often do. And the content often has legs. 

For instance, a video Small World posted from Pixar Fest of Buzz Lightyear flying during the “Together Forever — A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular” show has garnered more than 1 million views.

Marketing tools for advisors

Adam Duckworth, president and founder of Travelmation in Fort Lauderdale (No. 55 on Travel Weekly’s Power List), said in addition to providing a marketing boost, special festivals can attract niche groups to the parks.

“I think anything that you can put into the hands of the travel advisor that is an additional marketing resource or marketing piece is beneficial,” he said.

Woody from "Toy Story" during the Better Together: A Pixar Pals Celebration parade at Disney California Adventure Park.

Woody from “Toy Story” during the Better Together: A Pixar Pals Celebration parade at Disney California Adventure Park. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

Festival-specific marketing can attract others: Garden and topiary fans might want to visit the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival in the spring, or Pixar fans might be drawn to the Disneyland event, he said.

Festivals can also help close sales. They can be “a definite selling point when you are talking about folks who might be on the fence,” said Duckworth. 

For instance, with Pixar Fest, a family might have children who are fans of the “Toy Story” films or “The Incredibles.” Characters from both appear at Pixar Fest in a variety of forms. Disneyland is also currently playing host to Season of the Force, with special Star Wars-themed offerings like a nighttime experience in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

“The Disney fan base is so niche now in what they love, because Disney has so much [intellectual property],” Duckworth said. “It provides different opportunities.”

It’s also a tactic Disney Cruise Line has employed on its ships, he added, with themed cruises like Marvel Day at Sea, Pixar Day at Sea and Star Wars Day at Sea.

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