Thinkwell's 5th Annual

Guest Experience Trend Report:

Fan Festivals + Events

For our 5th Annual Guest Experience Trend Report, we’re digging into what’s driving guests to fan festivals, conventions, meet-ups, and live events around the world. What makes a fan experience meaningful? What’s motivating guests to spend their money, time, and other resources on these experiences?

In order to better understand these motivations and drivers, we polled a group of more than 1,100 people in late 2019 with a range of fan experience questions. With these insights, we provide a breakdown and analysis of key data points, trends, and actionable takeaways that can be applied to a wide range of events, experiences, and businesses across industries.

Continue reading for the full report!

People want to find their tribe.

Whether they’re basking in all things pop culture at San Diego Comic Con, meeting up to party the night away on the anniversary of a classic movie, or making new friends on an epic AR quest to “catch ‘em all” at Pokémon GoFest, people are looking for connection, and they’ll go a long way to find it. Sharing an affinity for something fosters instant connection—it’s easier to strike up a friendship with someone that shares a passion than struggle to find common ground with a new acquaintance.

Fan gatherings are big business.

Corporations, studios, and IP holders are seizing the opportunity to reach targeted groups of die-hard fans and brand evangelists across a variety of global experiential events. The demand for events and spaces where people with common interests can meet and mingle is growing every year as more and more people seek out their tribe.

  • Physical experiences still matter.

    73% of 13-65-year olds surveyed across 11 countries agreed with the statement: “Now, more than ever, I want to experience real rather than digital life,” in a Live Nation research study conducted in 2018.

  • Global spending is growing.

    Global spending on experiences is predicted to grow by 38% to reach $8 trillion between 2017 and 2030, according to a Euromonitor study.

  • And so is spending in the US:


    Spending on live experiences has grown by $5 billion per year in the US alone over the last decade!

What makes these gatherings meaningful, fun, and worth the cost?

To answer that question, Thinkwell went directly to guests to find out what’s driving this growing trend. For its 5th Annual Trend Report, Thinkwell asked over 1,100 respondents ages 18-64 across the United States about spending habits, travel plans, priorities, and must-haves when it comes to any type of convention, festival, meet-up, fair,  or live event.

Here’s what we heard: Fans want special social experiences–in real life.

People want to experience and share something special with other like-minded folks, ranking social experiences with other fans highly when it comes to most appealing fan activation and event features.

Respondents ranked the following as their top 3 must haves:

  • Trend Report: Character Meet & Greet

    Character and/or celebritymeet & greets

  • Trend Report: Social Experiences

    Social experiences with fellow fans

  • Trend Report: Merchandise

    Exclusive merchandise & shopping opportunities

Other must haves from respondents:

  • Access to an "Artist Alley"

  • Exclusive content

  • Exclusive food & beverage

  • Exclusive/themed photo opportunities

Willingness to spend is HIGH

People are willing to spend a lot of cash to hang out with their affinity group.

  • 46%

    Nearly half (46%) of respondents reported a willingness to spend up to $1,000 for an experience of this nature. An additional 17% were ready to spend up to $2,500.

  • 40%

    Fans in the survey also reported expecting to spend 40% of their money on exclusive merchandise.

Willingness to travel is even HIGHER

The right experience is worth fans’ time, as well as their money.

  • 71%

    71% of respondents reported they would be willing to travel up to 500 miles for a fanfest or event.

  • 58%

    58% reported they would be willing to travel by plane.

Planning and logistics matter.

Fan-focused experiences can’t rely entirely on guests’ passion for brands, characters, or IPs. If guests are distracted by long lines and overpriced food, they’re less likely to want to commemorate their experience by purchasing exclusive merchandise or raving about the event to their social networks. Practical considerations matter.

When asked to rank the most important factors for a successful fan event, these were the top 3 responses:

  • Trend Report

    Well organized layout

  • Trend Report

    Easy lodging/central hotel hub

  • Trend Report

    Parking and transit options


  • 1

    Don’t overlook the value of creating spaces and experiences within your events where fans and friends can simply hang out.

    Fan gatherings allow for intimacy in large scale groups of people who have congregated based on interests, and giving people an unstructured place to talk and take photos is an important part of that. Global and national fan events are planning for these spaces more and more, from the food court area of your local Renaissance Faire to the organized fan hangout areas that surround the convention centers for San Diego Comic Con and WonderCon. These places are not only another congregation space for community members, but also represent an additional opportunity for food, beverage, and merchandise sales.

  • 2

    Happy people spend money. If it’s worth it, they will spend!

    People are drawn to fan experiences and events by the promise of gathering with their tribe, but cementing a positive memory of an exclusive moment is why people will continue to spend once they arrive. The lure of exclusivity for the event itself brings people through the doors, and they are often driven to wait in excruciatingly long lines for exclusive merchandise and other offerings that can only be found on site. If the event delivers on the guest experience basics, then fans will spend.



  • 3

    A fan is a guest at heart, and no amount of adoration for the subject matter will make up for a bad guest experience.

    When thinking about operations and logistics, fanfest planners should concentrate on creating a fluid, seamless experience, which lets guests focus on the amazing memories they’re making. It’s critical to consider experiences as guest experiences first and foremost. Fans don’t just want to get their comic book signed by the artist, they want to have a frictionless experience while they get to that artist, so that they don’t have to think about anything other than meeting the person they admire, and how they’re going to post about it afterwards.



  • 4

    Affinity allows for immediate intimacy in large settings. That’s what folks are searching for.

    They come to see old friends, make new ones, and create memories in a space where they are surrounded by people as passionate as they are. The experiences that are ultimately successful and likely to make the most money are those that prioritize all aspects of their guests’ experience—from waiting in lines, to creator meet & greets, to cultivating spaces where fans can simply hang out together to share theories, play trivia, or compliment each others costumes.

Interested in learning more?

Reach out through the form below and let’s chat.  PDF version of the report can be downloaded here.