Disney headlines Honda Celebration of Light

$2 million annual fireworks competition predicted to attract 1.2 million viewers

Vancouver Fireworks Festival Society co-chair Paul Tilbury wants to keep the festival family-friendly, fun and largely free

Songs from the Lion King, Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast are likely to accompany fireworks at the 26th annual Honda Celebration of Light given that a Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS) team is producing the American presentation on the festival’s final night, July 30.

“The designer for that show is the lead designer for Disney Parks and Resorts in Florida, and he will use the Disney music,” said Kelly Guille, who owns Sirius Pyrotechnics and is in charge of managing the three competing entries in this year’s fireworks competition.

A team from Royal Fireworks represents Netherlands and is slated to launch the competition on July 23; Howard and Sons represents Australia and will light the sky from a barge in English Bay on July 27.

Guille told Business in Vancouver that he has worked with each of the teams in the past and recommended them to the non-profit Vancouver Fireworks Festival Society (VFFS), which is in charge of the event.

The festival’s annual budget is approximately $2 million. Its biggest costs are fireworks, transportation and hotel expenses for the competing teams.

About 85% of the festival’s budget comes from sponsorship and in-kind donations, said festival co-chairman Paul Tilbury, who has been involved with the event since 2000.

The rest of the budget comes primarily from ticket sales for three viewing areas and beer sales at an non-ticketed, 750-seat Sunset Beach beer garden.

Prices have risen for the two smallest paid-viewing areas. Tickets for the 450-person Keg Lounge atop the Stanley Park bathhouse are $179 this year, up from $169 last year; a 350-person area near the Inukshuk will cost $169 this year, up from $139 last year.

The largest paid viewing area remains the YVR Observation Deck at English Bay, where bleachers can accommodate 1,200 people. Tickets are $49 apiece, which is the same as last year.

Those areas’ combined 2,750-person capacity, however, represents less than 1% of all the people who are expected to watch the fireworks this year.

“The Honda Celebration of Light is very much a family-friendly, fun, free event first and foremost,” he said.

(Image: The Honda Celebration of LIght was known as the Symphony of Fire when the first Vancouver fireworks competition was held in 1990 from a barge at English Bay | Brandlive)

Tilbury estimated that 1.2 million people will watch the fireworks over the festival’s three nights. That would be up slightly from the 1.1 million the VFFS estimated watched the three shows last year.

The City of Vancouver is likely the event’s largest sponsor given that it covers the cost of policing, portable toilets and beach cleanup. In past years, those costs were estimated to be more than $350,000.

Tilbury would not say exactly how much Honda is contributing but he said it was more than six figures. It’s the second year of Honda’s three-year title sponsorship.

“It’s significant support from Honda and, proportionally, it is about double the support of second-tier sponsors such as Concord Pacific,” he said.

The VFFS subcontracts the organization of the festival to BrandLive, which then hires people such as Guille to manage specific areas.

West End businesses thrive on fireworks nights, and some are having special ticketed fireworks parties. 

The Boathouse Restaurant on Beach Avenue has a roof patio that, for the past few years, has been open to customers on a first-come, first-served basis. This year, however, the restaurant is hosting patio parties on fireworks nights.

General manager Darrick Wan told BIV that his restaurant is selling 90 tickets per night for rooftop viewing and hors d’oeuvres at $149 apiece.

“We haven’t done this in the past,” he said, “but we’re always try to do something different and to come up with new ideas.” •