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 Post subject: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2019 1:05 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 9262
Location: Somewhere north of Prescott, AZ on the Santa Fe "Peavine"
Today is August 8th.

This morning, I got the first of what is likely to be a long string of e-mails telling me, in effect, "Make reservations for our Santa Train NOW!"

I get e-mail notifications from a LOT of museums/operations, so I'm not identifying this outfit. (Hint: Not who you might think based on my location.) I can tell you that this railroad "pulls out all the stops"--they go to a "magical North Pole village", they light up the cars, festoon decorations all over the open car(s), have hired actors and actresses at the "village," etc.

Some would say this is ridiculously early, like a store already putting out their Christmas decor/merchandise/candy.

However, as many of us may know the hard way, Christmas/winter themed trains have exploded in popularity. I was flabbergasted to hear one operation tell me that their short-run, out-and-back (less than half the line's usual ride) afternoon and evening Christmas and "pumpkin patch" trains now, through judicious local and regional marketing, attract OVER HALF of the railroad's quite substantial annual patronage every year, and technically "sell out" (or close to it) even with every available piece of spare equipment pressed into duty for the trains in question. And there's a "keeping up with the Joneses" aspect in play as well--simply having a guy with a fake beard in a Santa suit handing out kitschy souvenirs no longer seems to "cut it" in 2019. You "gotta have" lights on/in the cars, large-scale decorations outside, things for the kids to see from the train, etc.

Has your line had to start marketing Christmas or Halloween trains yet?

For the volunteer operations who don't have someone paid to think through and promote this stuff--should you get on the ball?

Without divulging "trade secrets," does anyone have tips for the "rest of us" about what works and what doesn't?


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2019 1:54 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 485
An idea...

Rather than focusing solely on the kids and creating a pre-school level production... create a unique experience focusing on how railroads (specific to your area of course) connected families during the Holiday Seasons both by passenger trains, and mail / railway express.

Rather than focusing on a make-believe magical train to the North Pole... focus on a real train that connects real people.

That doesn't mean avoid Santa Clause and decorations... but have some substance to the whole affair. Have little moments where people learn things. I'm thinking about how at Disney World Epcot has the Holiday Storytellers. On the surface the kids are waiting to see Father Christmas in the UK... but Father Christmas tells a short story and you learn the origins of the Christmas Cards, Mistletoe, etc.

I haven't ever attended but I've seen photos of Strasburg's Christmas trains and they seem to have some really nice ideas that keep things simple, classy and not too over the top. (But popular enough they run 2 train sets and sell them all out!).

I'm not knocking the groups that do Polar Express... I want to ride the Durango train just to see the live reindeer! I just think there is room for another type of christmas train that would line up better with many museums mission statements.


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2019 6:01 pm 

Joined: Fri Aug 27, 2004 9:19 am
Posts: 579
Location: Scottsboro, AL
If I'm not mistaken, the French Lick Scenic Railway (Indiana Railway Museum) has been offering their Polar Express tickets a year in advance - when you step off the train you can purchase tickets for next year's ride. The more popular dates are already sold out.

- Alan Maples


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2019 7:54 pm 

Joined: Sat Nov 28, 2015 7:28 pm
Posts: 375
Location: Northern WV
The "Polar Express" trains run by the D&GVRR out of Elkins, WV need to be reserved a year in advance if you want to ride.

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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 10:51 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:19 pm
Posts: 1848
Location: Pottstown,Pa.
The best thing that can happen to drive demand is for the Tom Hank's Polar Express movie to get air time on TV and replay time in local theaters. Most tourist roads now call their trains North Pole Express's or Santaland Express or some other derivation to avoid paying the outrageous ransom required to use the Polar Express title.

We paid the ransom one year and then changed our name to North Pole Express with no decrease in ridership.

As Thomas the Tank Engine has solidly proven you can make an orange famous if you give it enough TV time.

The movie's exposure is by far the most important single ingredient in driving demand.

Ross Rowland


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 12:03 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 485
By the time the Polar Express movie is shown on TV most of the Holiday Train Rides are sold out.

Oregon Rail Society (4449 and 700) just call it "The Holiday Express" - they always sell out... 9 trains a day!

Strasburg operates "Santa's Paradise Express" and "Night Before Christmas Train" - again no mention of North Pole anywhere and yet they always sell out.


I don't think anyone should be knocking the Polar Express brand... I'm sure Al Harper paid dearly for that brand and naturally he wants to protect it.


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 2:17 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:19 pm
Posts: 1848
Location: Pottstown,Pa.
I wasn't knocking the North Pole brand at all. The mistake those folks made was being greedy and charging an outlandish fee. It didn't take long for most operators too figure out that North Pole Express works just as well and Al Harper nor anyone else owns that name.

Yes, we now call our steam version Santa's Steam Spectacular and no longer use the North Pole name at all.

What I can't figure is why a few operators still pay that very rich royalty when its totally unnecessary?? Hard to fix stupid I guess.

Ross Rowland


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 9:23 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 485
On one hand I get your point, it would appear that most Christmas Train events sell out either way. But the railroads that operate Polar Express trains (and they are many... Grand Canyon, Cuyahoga Valley, B&O, California State, Colorado State, Spencer, Virginia & Truckee... ) must see the value in what they are paying.

I'm sure Al Harper had to pay a fortune to get the rights from Warner Brothers... so naturally he's not going to just give that away. There's certainly value in being associated with the Polar Express Brand.. I'm not talking about ticket sales value, I'm talking about how the public sees your brand. Does "Polar Express' or "Santa's Steam Spectacular" resonate with your target audience better?


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 10:57 pm 

Joined: Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:29 pm
Posts: 67
Location: Monticello, IL
Just to add some facts, the "few operators" amounts to 43 in the USA, three in Canada, and five in the UK. These numbers based on Rail Events website listing of venues running Polar.

Kent


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2019 8:22 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:19 pm
Posts: 1848
Location: Pottstown,Pa.
Thanks Kent for that fact research. Really is a mystery why they agree to pay out a huge ransom when it's been proven to be totally unnecessary. Perhaps Mr. Harper & Co. have materially reduced the royalty??

If not, there's a lot more stupid folks in our ranks than I would have guessed.

IMHO-Ross Rowland


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2019 11:08 am 

Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2013 3:55 pm
Posts: 32
co614 wrote:

If not, there's a lot more stupid folks in our ranks than I would have guessed.

IMHO-Ross Rowland


That's a bit harsh. Especially when you consider that there are a few groups that run PE on this forum... A member from one such group posted in this very thread.

I would think that paying the royalty does not just give you the name, but it also gives you access to support that would not otherwise be available. Not only that, but you also get an exclusive (to those who paid royalty) supply of PE branded souvenirs that you can stock your gift shop with. People go gaga over that branded stuff.

Also, there is also probably legal support regarding the PE brand as well as operations/logistics support.

The above is just an assumption and just my thoughts.

And that member that I mentioned earlier in this post?? Their group sells out almost all of their Polar Express trains within a week or so of opening sales to the public... In June.

I'd say they're doing alright.

There is no right or wrong way to host events. But chastising others' decisions on how to operate their events in a public forum probably isn't a great idea. Especially when they don't seem to have trouble executing.


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2019 11:28 am 

Joined: Sat Nov 28, 2015 7:28 pm
Posts: 375
Location: Northern WV
All of the D&GVRR's 12 Polar Express trains out of Elkins, WV have been sold out for many months. Elkins is rather "off the beaten track" from major population centers. They're diesel-powered, by the way, which you would think would be less of a draw based on the movie using steam power. The D&GVRR must feel the marketing fee for the official license is worth it.

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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 8:59 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:19 pm
Posts: 1848
Location: Pottstown,Pa.
It would appear that P.T. Barnum was right when he said " there's a new sucker born every second" Anyone who pays an unnecessary 30% royalty certainly fits that description.

IMHO-Ross Rowland


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 10:33 am 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 485
Yes... the operators of the most successful railroad operations in the USA are both "stupid" and "suckers" clearly.

My opinion is a railroad should either go the Strasburg route (so NOT try to do anything North Pole related.. just have a simple but classy Christmas themed train ride) or go the Polar Express route and go all out with great branding. Anything in the middle has the chance to get overly cheesy.

As I said earlier... I really think many museums are missing out on creating a museum experience where guests learn how railroads connected families during the Holidays.


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 Post subject: Re: Christmas/Polar/Santa/Halloween Train Marketing
PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 3:51 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 9262
Location: Somewhere north of Prescott, AZ on the Santa Fe "Peavine"
This brings another question, and not just related to Santa trains or whatnot.

When I worked with various festivals, concerts, and whatnot, I always used to say "The perfect attendance is when you sell the last available ticket two minutes after it starts!"

Think about it. This means that you sold it out and met your goal, yet people were able to get tickets at the last minute, even the one that got stuck in traffic en route. Also including the person whose plans or work schedule changed and suddenly can attend after all.

By contrast, I have a major problem with such events that sell out within an hour or minutes of tickets becoming available. That means you could sell more, but chose not to. (Or you only have so many cars or only get one day in the arena, and too many people want to attend.) It also means that people who should be your fans are going to be ticked off that they can't attend, or have to pay scalper prices to do so. I've purposely boycotted events that employ that strategy--and apparently I'd be boycotting a couple of these lines if I had to fight tooth and nail to get reservations far in advance and hope everything falls into place (including the kids' health, etc.).

One of the railroads on my list starts running their "Santa specials" immediately after Thanksgiving and continues as late as feasible, running as many trains as manpower and equipment allows. I understand the goal is "close to sell-out, but make as many runs as needed to satisfy the patrons."


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