Weighing the Star Wars Effect


Hollywood gave itself a giant New Year’s present this past weekend in the form of its sci-fi epic Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which continued to post box office records. As of Sunday, January 3, 2016, the Walt Disney Company–produced adventure tale had grossed $740 million in the U.S. and an even more boastful $770 million from international markets for a total haul of $1.51 billion, amassed in only 19 days.

Planners waiting patiently on line for tickets at their local multiplex—along with fans dressed as Darth Vader, Chewbacca and R2D2—could only marvel at how huge a cultural phenomenon the Star Wars franchise had become. The current edition, after all, was the seventh in the series that dates to 1977 and the first to debut in a decade.

But experienced planners, waiting for the theater doors to open, may also have been thinking—happily or unhappily—that “Star Wars” mania was now likely to be with them professionally for a while.

Unlike most moviegoers for whom the present Star Wars excitement will cool down soon enough, planners can expect multimillion-dollar, high-tech attractions based on the movie to show up in a year or two at Disney theme parks in Orlando, Anaheim, Tokyo, Hong Kong and outside of Paris, all popular meetings destinations.

Think of how attractions based on other wildly successful, high grossing films had transformed everyday destinations in recent years into the hot destination of the year, especially for meetings and events that encourage families to accompany attendees.  “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Orlando Resort (2010), anyone?

Given the broad appeal of these movies and the afterlife they enjoy in terms of product merchandising, DVD sales and other spinoffs, it’s not surprising that the creative minds at Disney and Universal see an opportunity to extend their good fortune at their theme park assets.

Nor are movie-theme park tie-in attractions a new phenomenon. Jurassic Park: The Ride opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in 1996, following the successful debut of that movie franchise and was subsequently cloned at Universal parks in Osaka, Japan, and Singapore. And there’s a good chance the attraction will get an extension or further cloning going forward, considering the grosses the Jurassic World sequel earned by the end of its run in 2015 ($1.66 billion worldwide).

For planners interested in holding events at theme parks in conjunction with meetings and events in Orlando or other of these destinations, choose tie-ins with movies that have had broad appeal over generations. Both Star Wars and Jurassic World would qualify, compared to Frozen or Hunger Games, for example, which are spawning theme park attractions in Orlando and Dubai, respectively. Multi-generational appeal helps ensure that attendees of different ages will respond positively. (Baby Boomers find Star Wars nostalgic, after all.)

Then decide if a “day at the park,” where attendees and their families are pretty much left to their own devices will suffice. If not (and budget allows), work with the theme park’s group marketing department to plan a more customized program, typically after the park’s normal closing hours. Rides will be available, a buffet dinner can be catered on site, costumed characters can be available for photographs and, of course, the gift shop can remain open for sale of logo merchandise.


Photo credits: Bruce Serlen, Sergey Olegovich / Shutterstock.com

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen is a veteran travel writer, based in New Jersey, who has written extensively on meetings management and hotel operations. Most recently, he was executive editor at Hotel Business.

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