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Touring entertainment’s top trends for 2024/25

From competitive socialising to recreational fear, IQ examines what's hot and what's not in the world of touring entertainment

By Oumar Saleh on 05 Jun 2024

The Moonwalkers: A Journey With Tom Hanks

image © Justin Sutcliffe

The Touring Entertainment Report (TER) 2024, a resource that puts the global business of touring theatre, shows and exhibitions in focus, is out now. In this opening chapter, IQ examines the latest trends in the business…

The growing popularity of the touring entertainment sector has led to more and more content on the road. But creating eye-popping shows that people want to tell their friends about doesn’t come cheap, and ever-increasing competition means that being ahead of the trends curve is an important part of deciding what to develop for the market.
So what’s hot and what’s not? Here are some of the key trends for 2024/25.

From Instagram posts to TikTok reels, we’ve all seen friends and family share their immersive experiences on social media platforms. So it’s no surprise that creating experiences that people want to share online can drive awareness, as well as sell tickets. Check out Dopamine Land in London, Washington, Brisbane, and Madrid; The Art of the Brick, with its inventive Lego creations; or any of the major art projection exhibits, and you’ll know exactly what we mean.

But audiences want more than an Instagram moment, as George Wood, MD of Luna Entertainment Group, which co-produces The Friends Experience with OGX and operates the show in the UK in Europe, says. The global hit exhibition offers fans of the hit TV series a chance to relive scenes in beloved settings such as Central Perk café or the main characters’ apartments. While platforms such as Instagram are great marketing tools, Wood says that visitors were most attracted to the appeal of creating their own nostalgia-tinged moments.

“Being able to take pictures of themselves on the famous orange sofa and recreating moments with their friends is excellent marketing,” Wood explains. “It not only promotes the show, but these things never feel forced. There’s no cheap ploy by the content producers to get visitors to engage with them. In a way, it feels like a holistic experience, and social media is just one part of making that experience that much better.”

Authenticity is key to success – audiences want to play an active role in the experience, as Nicolas Renna, CEO of Spain-based international promoter and producer Proactiv, told the Touring Entertainment LIVE conference at ILMC: “Experiences that organically facilitate social media sharing empower visitors to become active participants in the marketing process.”

“What we’re looking to do with the location-based entertainment business is extend and broaden the relationship we have between our audiences and our IP”

No longer a sideshow to the main experience, dining is now very much on the menu for touring experiences. Mama Mia! The Party at The O2 in London sees fans of the hit musical treated to a Greek-style meal before enjoying a performance of the show, plus an ABBA- themed after-party. The Faulty Towers Dining Experience means you can sample some of the infamous service quality from characters of the BBC hit comedy series while dining – it’s been in constant demand throughout Australia, Europe, Ireland, Scandinavia, the United Arab Emirates, and the UK for years.

The future certainly seems to hold more mouth-watering delights on this theme ahead.

Family entertainment centres
While the lack of venue availability is a regular issue across Europe, in the US and Asia, FECs (family entertainment centres) have become popular alternatives to traditional venues.

Billed as large-scale leisure spaces, FECs allow families to not only be entertained but also provide opportunities for shopping and eating.

One of the most spectacular examples is Sony’s 40,000ft2 Wonderverse located in Chicago’s Oakbrook Center. The free-to-enter venue has individual attractions priced from $6 to $35 per person.

“What we’re looking to do with the location-based entertainment business is extend and broaden the relationship we have between our audiences and our IP,” Jeffrey Godsick, who leads global location-based entertainment (LBE) and themed entertainment for Sony Pictures Entertainment, told Blooloop. “We need activations that maintain that relationship, bring new audiences into the brand, and extend the stories. In many cases, we’re world-building with these attractions.”

“We really believe in depths of immersion. People need to be able to decide on how deep they want to go”

He added: “We really believe in depths of immersion. People need to be able to decide on how deep they want to go. They might just want to be eating in that environment, or they might want to dive deep into the world of a movie and be that character. We’re trying to provide that full range.”

Expect to see more of these multi-IP experiences around the world in the coming years.

Telling new stories
While big brand IP continues to draw in mass crowds, touring entertainment producers seeking to move beyond the ever-popular topics of Ancient Egypt, Titanic, and dinosaurs are looking to the world of science and technology for inspiration. Lightroom’s The Moonwalkers: A Journey With Tom Hanks exhibit in London sees the famous actor narrate the story of NASA’s Apollo moon landings, and the BBC Earth Experience, based on the hit natural history TV series, was a smash hit in London, and at the time of writing was continuing this success in Melbourne, Australia.

On a similar note, in the pursuit of novel stories to tell, there’s a growing interest in more diverse storylines. From shows celebrating the contributions of ethnic minorities in pop culture to exhibits championing inclusivity and body positivity, there’s been an increasing number of narratives taking new approaches and diverting away from “traditional” Western narratives.

To IP or not to IP?
Big-brand IP continues to draw big numbers in terms of ticket sales. From Hollywood movie franchises such as Marvel, Harry Potter, and Jurassic Park, to the ever-popular Disney world, producers and promoters can be inundated with offers from IP owners looking to tap into people’s desire to get closer to the characters they love.

But with so much potential out there, the key to success is not only choosing the right IP but the right approach, as Renna says. “It’s always a balance between the use of IP and how you present it. I look for an IP that transcends time.” His Mundo Pixar exhibition features 13 scenes from the iconic animation house. “It works because the audience that knows the movies is very broad in age range.

“If visitors saw the films as a child, they probably have children themselves now, so they can come with friends or their own family.”

“Our aim was to create something that awakens all five senses within people of all ages”

IPs are no longer limited to well-known film, TV, and video game brands, celebrities and fashion designers are all fair game. Recent examples include DIVA and Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, both of which took place at the V&A in London.

But with licensing such properties often proving very costly, is this always a route to success? And can producers create their own IPs?

Exhibition Hub followed up the massive Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience by curating another captivating attraction in tandem with Fever. Billed as London’s largest-ever “ball pit” when it made its UK debut last year, following successful jaunts in Los Angeles, Milan, and Brussels, Bubble Planet is a whimsical exhibit that spans 11 themed multisensory zones – including a meditative bubble bath pit, a hot-air balloon simulation, and a VR-powered experience where visitors see the world through the perspective of a giant bubble.

“The concept of bubbles, whether in the air or in the water, is presented throughout a surreal and imaginary journey,” explains Hamza El Azhar, co-founder and creative director of Exhibition Hub. “Our aim was to create something that awakens all five senses within people of all ages, and the concept of bubbles, whether in the air or underwater, is presented throughout a surreal and imaginary journey.”

The joy of horror
Hallowe’en has become an all-year-round activity as ‘recreational fear’ increasingly draws in audiences seeking spooky thrills and chills at attractions such as escape rooms and immersive experiences.

“There is a trend for immersive horror attractions where your involvement is greatly encouraged,” says Charles Read, MD of visitor attractions website Blooloop, citing the success of US-based producer Meow Wolf’s series of immersive exhibits as an example of how people will “pay to go and be terrified.” Among its attractions across the US is The Real Unreal, an “existential adventure game” that envelopes the viewer in a world where the real world seems to melt away.

And Heather McGill, director of Unify Productions in the UK, says: “While I’m not sure about the rest of Europe, the Hallowe’en market is doing exceptionally well in the US and the UK.”

The death of the word ‘immersive’
Just joking. It looks like that word is here to stay, despite everyone in the business bemoaning its use.

The Touring Entertainment Report 2024 is available exclusively to IQ subscribers in print or as a digital magazineSubscribe now and view the full report. A preview version is below.


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