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Get on the millennial bucket list without Harry or Hans

Let’s face it: There’s undeniable appeal in flying a broom in a Quidditch match and knocking back a cold Butterbeer. And there’s no doubt many of us would endure long lines to experience Hans Solo-type g-forces while we pilot the Millennium Falcon through space and battle a swarm of TIE fighters.

These are the types of amusement park experiences that millennials in particular are drawn to – and are drawing huge crowds for the big-name parks.

Both Universal Studios and Disney Parks in Orlando and Hollywood are banking on – and winning big by – providing immersive escapes to millions of young millennials. When the newest Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened last month in Southern California, the LA Times reported lines forming at 2 a.m. and sold-out crowds for weeks following. This $1.6 billion upgrade is being met by Disneyland’s own $1 billion addition of a Star Wars-themed land. That’s nearly $3 billion of investment in a very small geographic area. And there are billions more dollars being invested into amusement parks throughout the world.

Investing in an immersive experience

If you look at the list of top theme parks and attractions being introduced in the coming years, the immersive escape is a big trend. The Hunger Games is showing up in several Lionsgate locations, including Dubai, Atlanta, and Macau, China. Other parks coming on line in the next several years will also feature attractions based on mega-hit movies like Titanic, Aliens, Ice Age, and Frozen.

Of the forthcoming Titanic ride opening in 2018 in Dubai, Jeffrey Godsick, president of Fox Consumer Products, was quoted on CNN saying that it’ll be an “immersive experience” allowing visitors to feel “what it was like to be on the Titanic in an exciting way.”

But what if your amusement park can’t come up with $1 billion plus to sink into a major brand?

Are there ways to capture the same excitement and enthusiasm for the famous wizards, rebels, superheroes, and other fantasy-themed attractions and appeal to the millennial crowd? For smart marketers, there’s always a way!

If you strip away the star power of the Harry Potter and Star Wars brands, there are some critical techniques being employed at these major theme parks that can be used to benchmark and drive similar success. Begin with the premise that the immersive experiences don’t require a major brand. Add in a little exclusivity, some seamless technology, and strategic shareable moments, and you will make big strides.

Let’s target three key focus areas that will help attract this Gen Y audience to your amusement park, even if you don’t have a blockbuster movie to leverage.

Get on their bucket list!

Believe it or not, most millennials have created a bucket list, and they are looking for ways to check those boxes on the list. They want to earn bragging rights and share with their world how they experienced a sense of unique adventure at your park. And often it’s the newness or being the biggest ride of the summer that will make the list. Take what Ohio’s Cedar Point has done with their newest ride Valravn. Billed as the tallest, fastest, and longest dive roller coaster in the world, it is putting Cedar Point on millennial bucket lists everywhere.

IDEA #1: Aren’t launching a new ride this year? Find the one thing at your park you can own. Make it silly, or serious or wacky. Best corn dog, oldest carousel, or most carnival games. Then promote it with the idea of making bucket lists.

Cloak the technology in mystery and fun.

Make your technology a means to an end. Enhance the experience; don’t overwhelm it. Technology works best for the millennial audience when it is almost invisible. At Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the addition of the magic wand with an interactive chip embedded into the wand allows the customer to interact with technologically-advanced displays placed strategically throughout park. These wands, at more than $50 a crack, are flying off the shelves and creating off-ride experiences that are fun and magical.

Today almost every customer arrives at the amusement park with their own piece of mobile technology: their phones. With social media, web sites, and near-field technology, there are countless ways you can utilize their personal devices to enhance the park experience. While Disney is leading the way with major technology shifts like the MagicBand, other parks are focusing on connecting with visitors through apps and other “gamifying” experiences using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.

IDEA #2: A recent survey from Mintel shows that 76 percent of theme park visitors think theme parks should use technology to manage wait times. Encourage people to follow a unique Twitter handle when they enter the park to be able to see wait times for the most popular rides in real time.

Create memorable and shareable moments.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a big issue with millennials, and is fueled by social media – when Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter feeds are flooded with friends and acquaintances experiencing the “next big thing.” Eventbrite’s survey of millennials found that 73 percent of respondents agreed FOMO often drives their emotional need for experiences. Millennials want to be there, see it, hear it, touch it, and – most importantly – share it. According to amusement park industry publication Entertainment Designer, as many as 80 percent of guests have a device on hand while in a park, with millennial guests being even higher. This gives marketers ample opportunity to craft shareable moments millennials crave and create calls to action throughout the park, sparking FOMO for their friends back home.

IDEA #3: How about rethinking the delivery of that classic on-ride photo, the one you stand in line to glimpse and grimace at with other riders? Take advantage of new technology, and allow the riders to view, purchase, and share their experience online within seconds of the ride ending.

Small enhancements to the experience will help millennials show up

The summer of 2016 promises to be a big one for amusement parks big and small throughout North America. Millennials are seeking places to travel, have fun, and escape from the everyday. Your park could be just the ticket. And while Harry Potter, Hans Solo, Katniss Everdeen, and Iron Man will draw crowds to the billion-dollar destination theme parks, the regional parks can do very well with some creative, well-placed enhancements.

If you’re having trouble, we’ve got some superhero Skidmorvians who are more than willing to cast a millennial spell for you.