Event Director Interview Series: Front row tickets to the world’s most famous firework show

By Ruth Cole

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The iconic fleet of Sydney ferries transport over 16 million people around the city each year, an impressive undertaking managed by Sydney Harbour Ferries. However, the team don’t just focus on getting people from A to B. In 2014 the team stepped outside of the regular timetable to launch a program of New Year’s Eve Firework and Boxing Day Cruises - providing Sydneysiders and holidaymakers with the opportunity to gain access to front row seats to some of the most famous events in the world.


We spoke to Paul Zagami, Commercial Development Manager at Sydney Harbour Ferries to get insight into how you plan and promote events like this in such a competitive and crowded marketplace.


Know your competition - inside out.

New Year’s Eve and Boxing Day events on the harbour have been around since the fireworks began in 1996. However, Paul began by telling us that when it came to planning their bespoke Harbour Tours they started from the ground up, investing time upfront in getting to know their competition and market landscape inside out.  “When we started the program in 2014 we did a substantial review of the competition, we reviewed all competitor prices and current customer services offerings, that included onboard and foreshore proposals”.


Paul believes that investing this time upfront in getting to know what the competitors offered was well worth it, and gave the team at Sydney Harbour Ferries the insight they needed to identify how they could make themselves stand out from the competition - and this was the ability to pick up passengers from a wide suburban wharfs that line the harbour foreshore.

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Ticketing and pricing

When it comes to launching a new event, most people would agree that one of their biggest fears is pricing the event in a way that doesn’t sell enough tickets. So to ensure the first event ran without a hitch Paul and the team sought the advice of Ticketebo’s Founder and event veteran Oliver Hinton, who helped them to define a pricing and ticketing strategy that would succeed in such a competitive market.  


“Ollie was exceptional in his advice on how to run and ticket multiple events simultaneously. Seeking the advice of someone experienced in launching new events and ticketing gave us the reassurance and clarity we needed to see what our sales should be month to month.”


The Sydney Harbour Ferries team’s commitment to strategic planning and ongoing competitor analysis is impressive. Research and analysis has played a big part in the their event from day one. “Our website didn’t have the functionality to sell tickets, so we had to look at options for ticketing software. We spent time doing a full review of the solutions on offer and chose Ticketebo based on the service they provided to clients, the ease of buying tickets for our customers and the ability to integrate with our website.”


Although the event is now coming into it’s fourth year Paul told me that the team continue to review the market and update their pricing to reflect market changes every year. “We refine things every year, from the locations we run tours from to the the onboard service that is provided to customers”. The team's continued commitment to analysis and iteration highlights the need to build analysis and research into all aspects of your event in order to succeed in a competitive market place - even if your event is already proven to be successful.


Don’t be afraid to stray outside the realms of traditional marketing  

As expected the team are in the enviable position of not having to invest much in marketing to sell out tickets - in fact in 2016 Paul told us they spent no money on marketing the event at all - relying on Sydney event listing websites and word of mouth referrals from past customers.


But it hasn’t always been that way. “In 2014 we did paid online advertising, radio, newspapers and posters to promote the event, over the years we’ve been able to reduce it.” The team also took the innovative approach of inviting local blogger www.sydneyexpert.com onboard in the first year. The review blogger, Paula wrote still generates lots of traffic to their website today, proving that having the confidence to stray outside of the realms of traditional marketing can be a great way to expose your event to a whole new audience.


The pressure of delivering a ‘once in a lifetime experience’

One of the things which makes this event unique is the attendees - as people travel from around the world to experience the Sydney Harbour Fireworks. “We attract domestic and international tourists or Sydneysiders who are hosting guests from interstate or overseas”. When you couple this with the fact that many people plan to attend this spectacular event month’s or even years in advance you get an idea of the pressure the Sydney Harbour Ferries team are under to deliver on this once in a lifetime experience.

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So it comes to making sure the event delivers on expectations it’s all hands on deck. Paul regularly met with the CEO and Fleet Managers to review the success of the previous year, and work towards modifying the event with a view to continuously improving customer satisfaction. The team use a post event survey and Paul told me that, “every customer gets an email the day after the event and we gather feedback on all aspects of the event from ticketing and onboard services to value for money”.


Paul also shared his thoughts on the logistical challenges involved with delivering such an event within, ‘a tight four hour window on the busiest day of the year. ‘It’s incredibly satisfying for the crew and management to see that people have come to the other side of the world for the one chance to see the fireworks and they’ve chosen us to be their host. “It’s demanding, but very rewarding at the same time”.


Got family or friends visiting over the festive period? Make sure they don’t miss out on experiencing this unforgettable and spectacular event. Tickets for this 2018 New Year’s Eve Harbour Cruise will be on sale soon, get one before they're gone!


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