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Five key trends to watch in the location-based experiences space

Chaired by Blooloop’s business development director Ella Baskerville, an expert Location Based Entertainment Trends panel convened at Brand Licensing Europe last week.

Ngaio Harding-Hill, head of attractions and live experiences at Aardman, and Danielle Tanton, head of licensing at The Path Entertainment Group and vp of the Themed Entertainment Association Europe & Middle East Division, joined Ella to talk about the growing importance of the $3.29 billion LBE market and the inventive experiences – from character trails and pop-ups to themed accommodation and more – that licensors and brand owners are developing in the space in order to boost fan and customer engagement.

With the LBE market expected to grow 30% by 2030, five key trends were under discussion:

Immersive: The immersive market is exploding, Ella asserted, particularly in London and New York. Post-pandemic, cheaper rents and a hunger for leisure activities are bringing businesses and consumers back to city centres. Attractions with short runs, small footprints and an “exclusive” feel are currently the recipe for success, but the market is competitive, and brands need to offer something unique, or an experience that people have always wished they could have.

Classic board game Monopoly “coming to life” fulfilled that particular brief, asserted Danielle Tanton. Monopoly Lifesized, devised by The Path Entertainment in partnership with Hasbro, opened in London’s Tottenham Court Road in 2021 to huge success; a similar Cluedo attraction is in the works. “Visitors love the game itself, but we’ve also had a great response to our food and drink offering in our Top Hat restaurant and bar, with a conversion rate of about 60%,” said Danielle. “In hindsight, we wish we’d put a door from the street straight up to it for walk-in customers.”

Aardman, too, aims to offer fans “something unique” when it comes to experiences. Innovations include Wallace & Gromit in The Grand Getaway, an interactive, narrative-led VR experience for Meta Quest VR headsets, produced in association with immersive content studio Atlas V. “It will give fans the opportunity to live the humour of our brands,” commented Ngaio Harding-Hill.

Cross-generational: There has been a growth in experiences for younger guests that can also be enjoyed by parents and grandparents, and which give families the chance to play together, Ella explained. Brands that have a nostalgia element built-in, such as Barbie or Transformers, have an advantage in this space.

“All our brands are cross-generational, which gives us a strong foundation when it comes to LBE,” said Ngaio. “Shaun the Sheep, which is dialogue-free, crosses territories as well. Our shows feature layered humour, and include jokes for adults that go over kids’ heads, so we reach different touchpoints. Humour is something that transcends all ages, and we work with our partners to integrate it into our live experiences.”

Both Monopoly and Paddington – for which The Path Entertainment is producing The Paddington Bear Experience at London’s Country Hall – have a strong heritage that plays well across generations, Danielle pointed out. She also noted that with Monopoly Lifesized, aimed at participants from aged 9 up, players play as a team, not against each other – making for good family relations. “With the cost of living crisis, visitors are willing to spend on good experiences because they want to create memories,” she concluded.

Operators focusing on brands: Post-pandemic, both brands and attraction owners see immense value in collaboration, Ella stated. New Merlin Entertainments ceo Scott O’Neil has said that the focus for the group going forward will be on IP and brand partnerships.
World of Jumanji has opened at Chessington World of Adventures and the first standalone Peppa Pig theme park is set to open in Germany in 2024, while LEGO Ferrari Build and Race is landing at LEGOLAND Billund and LEGOLAND Windsor.

“For operators, having a brand attached to an experience means a deeper, richer connection with audiences,” Ngaio asserted. “Both the brand and the operator can draw on the other’s expertise. Partnerships in this space are long-term investments; the attraction will grow as the brand grows. Our Shaun the Sheep Land in Sweden opened in 2016 and we have just launched our first accommodation this year – shepherd’s huts, of course. It’s a growing and evolving relationship, We do lots of work in the early stages to build a solid foundation, to make sure our vision aligns with our partner’s values.”

Danielle added: “With a branded experience, you have a pre-made audience. You can build on a rich context and characters. However, for operators, it has to work financially. It’s very different to consumer product licensing. You can’t have exactly what you want from a brand perspective if it just doesn’t work for the operator.”

Exhibitions: Brand partnerships in museums and galleries can be historical (e.g. Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules at Somerset House), “blockbuster” events featuring plenty of Instagrammable moments (the Harry Potter touring exhibition) or educational (Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature at the Natural History Museum), Ella explained.

“The benefit of branded exhibitions is that the brand gets in front of a whole new audience, while the museum or gallery attracts people who might not otherwise have visited,” commented Danielle.

“Our Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep: Shear Genius exhibition is visiting state capitals across the US,” said Ngaio. “It’s based on problem-solving, and using our brands is a great way to bring humour to dry subjects and break down STEM topics so that children don’t realise they’re learning.”

Halloween and horror: Horror is a growing global trend, Ella pointed out, citing a new permanent Universal Halloween Horror Nights experience coming to AREA 15 in Las Vegas, theme parks putting on their longest fright nights yet, and the rise in popularity of family friendly “spooky” events as well as immersive “creepy” experiences such as Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More.

Danielle commented: “We’ve seen a huge success with our SAW: Escape Experience at Tower Hill. There’s a community feel and collective sense of nostalgia around Halloween and spooky events.”

“Halloween is a great leveller,” Ngaio agreed. “It’s cross-generational. Families often go to the same events, year in, year out. The combination of fun and fear is addictive.”

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