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Meeting Show Aloha Land – probably one of the most festive Christmas events in the world, ever

We chat to one of the masterminds behind Show Aloha Land, Aryn Nakaoka, to find out what it’s all about.

a group of kids posing for a picture

Imagine Willy Wonka’s factory meets every festive scene from every Christmas movie ever. Then throw in adventure activities, sparkling train rides, spectacular lighting displays, and a whole lot of snow – all nestled away in a sprawling magical wonderland on the island of Hawaiʻi... 

…You’re getting close to picturing the epic Show Aloha Land. There’s more, too. Giant bubble machines, delicious food, human snow globes. The list goes on. In case you were wondering, yes, this fantastical, festive feast of Christmas fun is a huge hit. But the really crazy thing is that it only started in 2020, with the first ever event accruing $500,000 in donations and sponsorship – all of which went to good causes. 

Read on to find out how a charity drive during the pandemic snowballed into one of the most spectacular Christmas events of all time, IOCLHO (in our Christmas-loving honest opinion).

Here, we chat to one of the masterminds behind Show Aloha Land, Aryn Nakaoka, to find out what it’s all about 👇.

Ticket Tailor: Give us a bit of backdrop…

Aryn: Show Aloha Land was started in December 2020 as part of Show Aloha Challenge (SAC) – that’s the foundation of our nonprofit spun up by Michael Gangloff during the pandemic. A lot of restaurants were shutting down during the pandemic, and people were also struggling to work and earn money, so Mike saw an opportunity to get donations to buy food from restaurants and deliver it to the elderly. In the end, SAC Foundation provided $1,400,000 in hot meals to kupuna and kept 80 restaurants working through bringing them consistent business. 

In the past two years, SAC Foundation has given $150,000 to Make-A-Wish Foundation, $20,000 to Hawai'i Foodbank, and $20,000 to Hawai'i Meals on Wheels. SAC Foundation also held two huge food drives at the Aloha Stadium to feed local families.

Ticket Tailor: Wow! Impressive. So, how did that initiative turn into Show Aloha Land?

Aryn: At the end of 2020, we were still in and out of lockdowns in Hawai'i, and we wanted a way to have Christmas lights. Honolulu normally has a Christmas light show which it's been the same for many, many years – we wanted to kind of replicate this… or do it even better! To keep things safe during the pandemic, we decided to do a light tour using cars – aka the perfect bubble! Mike came up with this idea of using the Aloha Stadium, which, thanks to its capacity for 60,000 fans, definitely had a big enough parking lot for our ambitions. 

Mike owns a construction firm, so he could take care of dealing with things like car flow, and I could take care of the tech. 

Fast forward a few weeks and we’d made $500,000 in donations and sponsorships – the majority of which went to Make-A-Wish Foundation. A lot also went to many of the restaurants we’d supported, as well as other non profits.

a road with lights at night

Ticket Tailor: What next? How did you go from a Christmas lights drive-thru to an all-singing-and-dancing Christmas wonderland?

Aryn: In 2021, we added what we call the Mega Tree area (with a 50 foot Christmas tree!), with trains for kids to ride. Then we added a dining area, and we had a Santa, too. There was still the six feet rule so we had to have Santa outdoors. But fast forward to today and everything is in-person and we’ve got a lot more stuff.

We have a snow room – of course, in Hawai'i we don't have snow – so we're going to fill 3,900 square feet of fresh snow every day. We have a bubble room, human sized snow globes, and professional photos with Santa, with pro lighting and cameras. We’ve also gone from one kids train to four, and have 20 bouncers for kids (and families!), obstacle courses, zip lines and traditional drive-thru food. Oh, and a bar! Because we now have a liquor license.

We’re also partnering with a radio station for our music and synchronized lighting displays. Up until now we’ve run our own radio station!

Ticket Tailor: That sounds nothing short of epic. Any challenges along the way?

Aryn: This last year we took a humongous loss because I think we expected too many people. We doubled the size of the drive-thru so we could handle twice as many cars when I guess we’d already found the maximum demand. So this year, the drive through and everything is ticketed per person, but everything is included – from the human sized snow globes through to zip lining and everything in-between!

a group of people posing for a photo

Ticket Tailor: How do you guys market yourselves?

Aryn: There was a lot of TV and radio coverage in year one because our event was so new. A lot of it had to do with the non-profit, SAC – it was the food drives we did that got us on the news. There was a lot of word-of-mouth, too. We were in lockdown, so technically people couldn’t get out of their cars but you couldn’t stop them from doing so anyway to take pictures of our mega tree – a 50 foot Christmas tree with LED lights with images projected onto it (we had a bird flying across the tree!). Hawai'i (like a lot of other places) has become very much about social media, so there was a lot of word-of-mouth from that. 

Through the last two years I've collected about 55,000 email addresses through Ticket Tailor and we just signed up for MailChimp this year, so we’ve thrown email marketing into the mix, too. We also have an influencer with a quarter of a million followers who’s going to start promoting us. 

I also signed up for some simple texting campaigns (I’m from a telecom background) – we had people text us to opt into a discount programme. We texted them a week in advance, 24 hours in advance and then the moment the tickets went on sale so that they got a direct link, and we also did that for our 55,000 emails. 

Ticket Tailor: Nice! Any advice for budding event planners with their eyes set on pulling off an event like yours?

Aryn: It’s important to work backwards, starting by figuring out what your budget is and how much help you have available. Also, I’d advise people to consider just the amount of labor and explaining is involved in an event like this, especially from the ticketing side. You have to be very concise and clear and expect some crazy questions! One thing technology has definitely helped us with is not needing as many people to handle this. I think video explanations help more than anything else. 

Ticket Tailor: Any other interesting learnings on the ticketing side of things?

Aryn: What's funny is, normally about $1m comes in after our show starts because I think social media then blows up with individual pictures. A lot of people will drive up and not have a ticket. So being able to add a new order will be a good thing for us this year. We'll probably just have an iPad there to add orders and take cash as they come in.

a large tree with lights

Ticket Tailor: That’s a great idea. Even having a QR code somewhere nearby which they can scan while they’re driving in could help with queues?

Aryn: Yep, so what we did last year is we had the Google QR codes on a clipboard and people would come up and try and check in because we scan at the car. If they didn't have a ticket, we would have them scan the QR code and go park. But every night we would get maybe 20 ticket sales at the door. So if there was a kiosk version, that would be really helpful. We could just put an iPad somewhere, have people walk up and punch in their information rather than use their phone. 

That reminds me of some more advice – I’d advise people to look at the manpower they’ll need and where they can use technology to save. I mean it’s amazing how many people we can process with the scanning app, for example.  

Ticket Tailor: Thanks, Aryn! We’re sure our readers will appreciate that very sound advice! Good luck with this year’s event (we’re definitely jealous we can’t be there…)

🎄To find out more about Show Aloha Land, head here!

🎟️ And to find out how Ticket Tailor can help you optimise and streamline event planning with seamless technology and ongoing ticketing support, head here!

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