What does it take to earn the affection — and dollars — of millennials?
For Universal Parks & Resorts, the answer may be wizarding worlds, Butterbeer, and zombies.
According to an analysis released Thursday by technology company Foursquare, the coveted millennial generation is driving strong growth at Universal theme parks thanks in large part to the company’s investments in new rides and intellectual property that resonates with 18-34-year-olds.
The company analyzed foot traffic to Disney, Universal, and other theme parks in the U.S. by using both check-ins and background location information from users of the Foursquare, Swarm, and Marsbot apps. The company has used the same methods to predict iPhone sales.
Between 2014 and 2016, according to Foursquare’s data, Universal’s parks in Orlando and Hollywood saw their market share increase from 11 percent to 15-16 percent. Almost half of the visitors during that time were millennials.
“That’s tremendous share gain,” said Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck. “That’s an example of successfully targeting millennials with relevant new products that get their interest.”
He noted, however, that Universal wasn’t necessarily growing at the expense of Disney, which remains comfortably at the top. Instead, Glueck said Universal’s domestic parks managed to grow the market overall and take away from some second- and third-rung properties.
The Universal theme parks also brought in a larger percentage of men than many rivals, the company said.
The big new attraction in 2014 was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley at Universal Studios in Orlando, which followed the first Harry Potter section at neighboring Islands of Adventure in 2010. When the 2014 section opened in July, Foursquare says the park saw a 25 percent lift in visits specifically from millennials that continued for several weeks.
Wizard-themed events have also brought big increases in the number of young adults, and this spring’s opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the Hollywood park resulted in an overall 38 percent lift, with millennials responsible for about 60 percent of that increase. The area includes Hogwarts castle, rides, shops, restaurants, and shows.
A new Walking Dead attraction featuring the zombies from the hit AMC show opened earlier this month and drew 35 percent more millennials than normal. Based on the data so far this year, Foursquare is predicting at least a 10 percent increase in attendance at the Hollywood park compared to last year.
That kind of boost wouldn’t be out of the ordinary: In 2015, the first full year that the Diagon Alley attraction was open at Universal Studios in Orlando, attendance increased 16 percent to nearly 9.6 million, according to the Global Attractions Attendance Report produced by Themed Entertainment Association and the economics practice at AECOM, an engineering firm.
“What Universal has done is grow the theme park market from its traditional audiences to this twenty-something and young 30s audience that may not have been visiting theme parks very often,” Glueck said. “But thanks to the zombies of The Walking Dead, Harry Potter…Universal’s really tapped into some franchises that have meaning to the millennial community and they’ve grown the pot and that’s really impressive.”