Franklin Institute expecting tourism magic from Harry Potter exhibition

Harry Potter exhibit sign at the Franklin Institute

Harry Potter fans can play a virtual game to win tickets to Harry Potter: The Exhibition, at the Franklin Institute in February 2022, by scanning a QR code on a photo-op that will appear around the region in the months leading up to the opening of the exhibition. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is gearing up for what might be its biggest show ever, “Harry Potter: The Exhibition.”

The highly technological and immersive exhibition based on the hit young adult novels and movies will open on Feb. 18. Pre-sale tickets for the world premiere of “Harry Potter: The Exhibition” went on sale two weeks ago for members and those who opted in to an email blast, and already more than 21,000 have been sold.

That number put Harry Potter on track to be one of the Franklin Institute’s most popular shows, ever.

“We are so proud to deliver an exhibition of such high caliber, with widespread, global appeal, to support Philadelphia’s robust tourism efforts already in place,” said Franklin president and CEO Larry Dubinski.

Franklin Institute CEO, Larry Dubinski, said the announcement of Harry Potter: The Exhibition, was a sign of a return to normal life during a pandemic, at a press conference and photo-op on Nov. 3, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
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Visit Philly, the city’s tourism marketing company, expects Harry Potter to be a significant factor in restoring Philadelphia’s tourism and hospitality industry to pre-pandemic levels.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney spoke of the city’s world class cultural offerings at a press conference announcing the coming of Harry Potter: The Exhibition, in early 2022 to the Franklin Institute on Nov. 3, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“The world premiere of ‘Harry Potter: the Exhibition’ at the Franklin Institute in 2022 is unquestionably one of those bright spots,” said Rachel Ferguson, chief innovation and global diversity officer for Visit Philly. “We’re going to make sure that we’re touting all that it has to offer in its run in Philadelphia, on all of our marketing platforms.”

The company developing Harry Potter: The Exhibition is not new to Philadelphia. Imagine Exhibitions’ blockbuster shows about Titanic and Jurassic World have run at the Franklin in the past. President and CEO Tom Zaller said Harry Potter will feature all the significant characters and scenes from the entire Harry Potter universe, aka the Wizarding World.

Imagine Exhibitions CEO Tom Zaller described the Harry Potter: The Exhibition, an immersive expression opening at the Franklin Institute in February 2022, at the announcement and photo-op on Nov. 3, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The first book of the Harry Potter series, “Sorcerer’s Stone,” was published in 1997, and the first movie of the film franchise released 20 years ago. Since then its stories and spin-offs have been developed into many products, including a play, an amusement park, and an online digital platform.

Zaller hopes his exhibition will satisfy the high expectations that Harry Potter fans have built over the decades.

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“It’s great stuff. I mean, it’s a little bit of pressure for me personally to live up to that level of excellence,” he said. “The stories are incredible and the filmmaking is incredible. The physical things that have been brought to life over the years from different experiences all over the world are just really well-done.”

The Philly Pops played the Harry Potter theme music at the announcement of Harry Potter: The Exhibition, an exhibit coming to the Franklin Institute in February 2022, on Nov. 3, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Zaller would not divulge details of the forthcoming exhibition, but said it will have elements that will feel personal to individual fans. Visitors will be able to select, for example, what “house” of the Hogwarts school they identify with — Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, or Slytherin — and parts of the exhibition will be tailored to that house.

“I want you to have your own moments. This brand is a lot of things to a lot of people,” he said. “We can’t make everything 100% personal. But we want to have those moments, those Easter eggs.”

To tease the February launch, Imagine Exhibitions and the Franklin Institute will be putting large-scale, Harry Potter-themed sculptural works into public places around the region.

A gigantic golden snitch, the iconic grand prize in a Quidditch match, on display at the Franklin Institute on November 3, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A QR Code attached to a model of Hogwarts, or a Golden Snitch on a pedestal, connects people to an augmented reality game via their phones, wherein an image of the Golden Snitch flutters across their phone camera screens. A Golden Snitch is a semi-sentient, mechanical ball used during Quidditch play. Those who “catch” the Snitch — tap on the AR image as it buzzes past the screen like an irritated mosquito — are eligible to win prizes.

Over the next few months, the Golden Snitch pedestal will appear at the Franklin Institute, the Independence Visitor Center, the Promenade at Sagemore in Marlton, New Jersey, and Peddler’s Village in New Hope.

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