Continuing to celebrate Centennial Olympic Park’s 20th anniversary, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority is lighting up Downtown Atlanta’s crown jewel with a new event; the Southeast’s first-ever Chinese Lantern Festival. South Park, including the Southern Company Amphitheater, was illuminated with 25 decorative lanterns, handcrafted giant flowers, a three-story pagoda and a 200-foot-long Chinese dragon, a true spectacle for the eyes! All creations were constructed and assembled by artisans from China to make the Park come alive each night. Additionally, craftsmen set up booths at different locales to create everything from rice writings to Chinese paintings. The festival also included nightly entertainment inside the festival, featuring acrobatics, dancers, theatre, and more.
On Thursday, December 8, 2016 the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, together with Central Atlanta Progress, Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, and SkyView Atlanta, hosted an invitation-only VIP preview of Atlanta’s inaugural Chinese Lantern Festival in Centennial Olympic Park. This celebration of Chinese culture illuminated Centennial Park District from December 9th, 2016 through January 15, 2017. The VIP preview was a resounding success welcoming over 400 community and business stakeholders as well as prominent members of the Atlanta media and social influencers. Guests were treated to a sneak-peek of the beautiful lanterns along with authentic Chinese cuisine, cocktails and artwork. In conjunction with the VIP preview of Chinese Lantern Festival, SkyView Atlanta provided guests an extraordinary 200 foot overhead view of the Festival from coupled with complimentary champagne and desserts inside the gondola.
Hosting a new, publicly ticketed event into the crowded winter months in Downtown Atlanta is no easy feat. Therefore, a soft-opening celebration became the catalyst the support the objectives of the event. Throughout the planning process, Centennial Olympic Park event organizers and members of Central Atlanta Progress’ marketing team returned to the three keystones for this event ensuring our messaging and communication supported these objectives.
The first objective was to increase the awareness of the event. Aside from a traditional marketing and communications campaign including press releases to Atlanta media and advertising buys within digital, television and niche market spaces, we knew there must be an instance in time that would not only increase interest in the event, but also become the catalyst for the communications campaign that would follow. The Chinese Lantern Festival VIP Preview Event became our opportunity to initiate momentum that transferred into ticket sales and attendance.
The next objective was to engage with community stakeholders in a different way. As the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and Centennial Olympic Park frequently engage in a professional settings with neighboring businesses, it was important to facilitate a sense of community and inclusion for our neighbors. The Chinese Lantern Festival VIP Preview Event allowed the Georgia World Congress Center Authority to invite local business and community members out for this special event. Additionally, capitalizing on the opportunity to partner with organizations such as SkyView Atlanta to create opportunities for guests to enjoy the Chinese Lantern Festival from a different vantage point.
The overarching programmatic objective for Chinese Lantern Festival was to increase nighttime patronage and attendance for restaurants and attractions within Centennial Park District. By hosting an anchor event, Chinese Lantern Festival, this spurred metro-Atlantans and individuals from around the country to enjoy Downtown Atlanta in a different capacity contrasted against preconceived notions.
The strategy for garnering attendance and support of the VIP Preview of The Chinese Lantern Festival was to create a shroud of mystery while including cultural flair. Due to Chinese Lantern Festival being a first-time event within Atlanta, it was easy for us to deliver our messaging consistent with a mysterious slant. One of the more culturally creative strategies we employed were focused on invitations. Custom rice boxes filled with fortune cookies that included messaging specific to Atlanta’s Chinese Lantern Festival including “You will soon be transported to a far off land without leaving Atlanta” and “An immersion in Chinese culture awaits you.” These invitations were sent directly to individuals with two custom printed invitation cards. Many people brought the rice box invite with them to the preview to let us know how much they enjoyed the thoughtful packaging!
Another strategy employed by Centennial Olympic Park was the opportunity to rally the community around a new event that would create foot traffic throughout the event, and hopefully return visitors to Centennial Park District. A premier partnership with SkyView Atlanta was initiated that ultimately elevated both brands and increased ticket sales for each entity. Not only was the VIP preview of Chinese Lantern Festival a huge success for both Chinese Lantern Festival and SkyView Atlanta, but it also lead into a marketing partnership that included co-branded marketing materials and also a highly successful combination ticket.
Chinese Lantern Festival was additionally supported by corporate and downtown Atlanta community and business partners. Central Atlanta Progress played an integral role in the VIP preview of Chinese Lantern Festival. CAP supported through the VIP event brainstorming sessions, circulation of invitations through proprietary channels, and supported the Chinese Lantern Festival both financially and through the distribution of marketing materials throughout the downtown area and on various social media accounts. Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, Central Atlanta Progress, Omni Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Garden Inn, Hyatt House, and Embassy Suites each provided an intricate piece of the puzzle that allowed Centennial Olympic Park to promote such an event. As a community, our relationships grew and we achieved a collective goal through the support and enthusiasm found within our connection.
The night of the VIP preview of Chinese Lantern Festival was the coldest night of the year with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees as the sun began to set. Nervous on attendance numbers due to the weather, it was an unexpected privilege to have so many individuals walk through the illuminated archway into the festival. Upon entrance, VIPs were greeted with passed hors d'oeuvre including Asian chicken salad wontons, pork belly pot stickers and hoisin shrimp shooters as well as warm sake to enjoy under the lights.
Meandering throughout the event that was open drop-in style through 9pm, guests took photos with Chinese Lantern Festival branded social frames, experienced a traditional face changing performances, and captured the Atlanta skyline from a different perspective. Scattered throughout the self-guided path, Centennial Olympic Park staff and Chinese artisans and performers were available to answer questions about the event and point out the many unique aspects of the lanterns. After enjoying the authentic Chinese sights and cuisine at the VIP preview, guests were then treated to complimentary rides at SkyView Atlanta to obtain a different angle of the event.
Overall, the Chinese Lantern Festival’s VIP preview event provided the catalyst for social and word-of-mouth communication that would take this event and make it a winter hot-spot for Downtown Atlanta.
A Facebook event page was instituted promoting the Chinese Lantern Festival that cumulated in over 20,000 interested fans with the most popular video post obtaining over 77,500 views. Additionally, the Centennial Olympic Park Facebook page was utilized as were social resources provided from the partnership with Centennial Park District. Chinese Lantern Festival’s social media campaign saw robust numbers leading up to the VIP preview and of opening night of the festival. December 7 through December 9, 2016 Chinese Lantern Festival garnered 356,067 impressions, 3,655 post engagements and had 2,480 unique link clicks on Facebook, the primary outlet for social traffic during the festival. Growth metrics of Centennial Olympic Park’s Facebook page also saw strong numbers including a 4% increase in likes.
Attendance of predominant Atlanta social bloggers and influencers were welcomed at the VIP Preview creating an atmosphere of support, inclusion and interest around the Chinese Lantern Festival. The attendance of these individuals was crucial to the marketing strategy as they supported the event within the social space and within their primary networks. Many travel bloggers, Atlanta-specific bloggers and parenting bloggers published graphic elements, articles and experience pieces during and after the VIP Preview including: Stress Free Baby, Product Review Mom, ArtsATL, 365 Atlanta Family, Explore Georgia, ATL_Bucketlist, Headband for Today, Atlanta NOW, ATL_Events, Vinings Lifestyle, and the Urban Realists.
While the VIP preview of Chinese Lantern Festival garnered an attendance of approximately 400 media members, community stakeholders and business professionals, the real outcome of the VIP preview was the 38,000 individuals who enjoyed Chinese Lantern Festival over the six-week run. Chinese Lantern Festival became the backdrop to so many unique stories. Marriage proposals occurred, families enjoyed quality time together, friends reveled in the ambiance, and children were amazed by the authentic performances. Chinese Lantern Festival was not only a culturally significant event, but a true opportunity for the entirety of Atlanta to witness our Downtown in a new light.