Universal Studios Hollywood welcomed a tremendous number of millennials this summer. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): The Wizarding World of Harry Potter likely catches the attention of the generation, which grew up with the franchise. // © 2016 Creative Commons user nelljd
At every time of the year, whether low or high season, travel agents have their fingers on the pulse of travel trends, from what destinations and resorts are drawing families to the top cruise itineraries and hotels attracting baby boomers. Another entity gathering key insights into the travel market? Location intelligence company Foursquare, known well as a city guide and for its check-in app Swarm.
According to Sarah Spagnolo, editor at large for Foursquare, the data the company collects is vast. The organization regularly has record-breaking days, with more than 8 million people worldwide checking in per day. In total, Foursquare touts nearly 10 billion check-ins.
“Through that data, we’re able to understand societal trends and shifts as they happen in real time,” Spagnolo said.
This summer, Foursquare used its Place Insights tool — which is available for purchase — to analyze data specific to theme park visitation. Foursquare already knew that foot traffic to theme parks rises during the summer months, so the hope was to uncover any interesting changes happening during this season compared to the same time last year. The company was especially interested in how the introduction of new attractions would impact guest rates.
The numbers tell a couple of stories. There’s the more expected fact that Disney parks continue to top the leaderboard, hosting more guests than any other theme park. Then there’s telling data on Universal Studios’ theme park growth. From 2014 to this year, the brand grew its visit share by about 4 percent. The key to this increase? Millennials, according to the Foursquare study.
“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and The Walking Dead attractions represent investment in intellectual property that’s really driving increased millennial visits,” Spagnolo said. “This summer, more millennials were coming to Universal Studios Hollywood than ever before.”
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened on April 7 in Hollywood, Calif., and saw a 63 percent jump in millennial visits on its opening week. That number lowered to 58 percent during its second week, but Spagnolo says that’s still no easy feat. The Walking Dead attraction debuted July 4, and opening week of the zombie-centric experience caused a 35 percent uptick in millennial visits compared to the week before.
“Some think of millennials as ‘the Netflix generation’ — people who are sitting back and staying at home more than ever,” Spagnolo said. “But with the right attractions, Universal has been able to get [millennials] to its parks, and more effectively than some of its competitors.”
Spagnolo also believes that the data hints at the power of nostalgia. Many millennials — regularly defined as people between the ages of 18 and 34 — grew up with popular characters from the “Harry Potter” and “Simpsons” franchises, for instance. Bringing those childhood stories to life with a theme park attraction certainly seems to be catching their attention.
Elisa Taylor, a family travel specialist with World Less Traveled in Auburn, Calif., says that the numbers have played out similarly among her clients, especially since Universal Studios Hollywood recently launched its new experiences.
“My clients live primarily in California, and they are excited for new reasons to travel within the state,” Taylor said. “Some are going to Universal for the sole purpose of experiencing Harry Potter. Most are making Universal the alternative to Legoland or Sea World and adding it to their Disneyland Resort vacation.”
Though most of Taylor’s clients are baby boomers and Gen Xers taking their grandchildren to the parks, she notes that she’s seeing more millennials looking to add value to a Southern California trip by tacking on a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood.