A look into the future for UK wedding and events venues with Charlotte Winship.
Whilst we await the results of the recent pilot events, the UK weddings and events industry is gearing up for the welcome return to full capacity and I am optimistic that the hallowed date of 21 June will hold firm. I am also aware that our industry has been changed by this experience and, in the process of making future plans, we must be mindful that some of these changes may be here to stay.
Before lockdown #1, I had never heard of Zoom or Microsoft Teams. I had a familiarity with Skype and Facetime from my years living overseas and welcomed then, as I do now, the opportunities they created to maintain face-to-face contact with people from a distance. Virtual meetings are now the norm and, although not necessarily liked by all, they have enabled venues to maintain client contact and engagement throughout lockdown. Many of us are raring to embrace (literally!) the opportunity to meet in person again but for many, time poor or unable to travel easily, this opportunity to meet face-to-face remotely will continue to be invaluable.
Many venues have already been capitalising on virtual tour technology and this has been crucial in enabling sales activity to continue throughout lockdown. This will also continue to be a valuable sales and marketing tool, enabling venues to be accessed by customers based overseas or further afield. Make sure your tours are up-to-date and show your venues at their very best with crisp clear imagery.
I have also been impressed by the technology available for creating virtual events. Venues, production companies and entertainment suppliers have collaborated to create some innovative virtual event platforms enabling all manner of events including exhibitions, conferences and parties to be successfully transferred into the virtual arena. Venues have been recreated digitally to create an immersive experience without guests having to leave their house.
Food and drink can be couriered to your home so that you can enjoy a live culinary experience, guests can network with each other remotely in chat rooms, participate in live presentations from 1,000s of miles away and watch live entertainment from their sofa. Whilst it is not cheap, this technology negates the problem of managing social distancing and enables a much larger guest list and participation. It also has the capacity to be used to create hybrid events allowing guests the choice to attend in person or remotely but still participate fully.
Corporate event organisers will be keen to continue to access this technology to reach overseas customers and associates, particularly whilst travel remains limited. Now is the time for venues to reach out to their technical suppliers and continue to explore virtual event opportunities.
As we become increasingly geographically spread out, the ability to unite people wherever they are is very powerful. So many couples miss the opportunity to have overseas friends and family attend their marriage celebrations yet now we can livestream the day for all to see. Venues with the technology and connectivity to enable this will be increasingly in demand as travel restrictions continue.
For many, the ability to get outdoors for exercise, gardening, working or socialising has been a lifeline over the past year. Outdoors is safer, less-restricted and confined, with more space to circulate and breathe fresh air. The outdoors creates a feeling of wellbeing so if your venue offers outdoor spaces, make sure you promote them as much as your indoor spaces.
Value and maintain your outdoor spaces as much as your indoor spaces. Show clients how they can optimise their weddings and events – an outdoor wedding ceremony, a picnic or BBQ, garden games, alfresco music. The great British weather will always require us to make a ‘plan B’ but enabling people to take their event outside will be worthwhile.
Planning laws have been relaxed this year lengthening the usual 28-day period for temporary structures without planning permission to 56 days or longer in some circumstances (speak to your local council). This has sent the demand for marquees and other temporary structures through the roof. Not only do they enable hospitality venues to open under current restrictions in all weathers but they also enable smaller venues to increase their capacity. A small country home with limited indoor capacity but a large garden can considerably increase numbers and develop their share of the wedding market with the addition of a summertime marquee.
Landowners are increasingly exploring ways to diversify and may not yet be prepared to convert a farm building into a wedding venue. This is a great opportunity to put up a tent and test the market. It also opens opportunities for venues to provide overnight accommodation in the form of glamping, or glampsites to offer a party venue for their glampers. Speak to your local marquee suppliers about a collaboration or maybe it’s time to invest in your own marquee structure?
Anticipated changes to the marriage laws are also likely to create more freedom for venues to utilise outdoor spaces for marriage ceremonies. The Law Commission has proposed reforms to the current laws that will enable more flexibility for couples to marry how they wish without the constraints of a registered or licensed venue. No date has been confirmed but the pandemic has certainly identified the need and increased public demand for this change.
Sadly we will have to wait a while longer before we are able to travel without restriction again. This gives the UK wedding and event market an advantage. An inability to plan overseas weddings or corporate events means that there will be an increased demand on the domestic market. Many people have been working remotely and, whilst for some this has worked well, I foresee a need for companies to bring their teams together to raise morale and restore mental wellbeing with team-building workshops, corporate away days and conferences.
Businesses will be looking for unique experiences for their clients and teams. What experiences can your venue offer onsite or nearby? Orienteering, archery, sailing, a survival challenge, treasure hunt, escape room, obstacle races etc. Do you have the technological capability to facilitate conferences? Screens, PA systems, projectors etc.
With tropical beach weddings off the cards for now, couples not prepared to wait will also be looking for unique and unusual UK wedding venues to fulfil their dreams. How can you inspire a couple with wanderlust to book your venue? An intrepid menu? A waterfront ceremony? A yurt in the garden? Exotic entertainment?
The economic consequences of the pandemic are also likely to have an impact on consumer spending around weddings and events. There will continue to be a strong desire for people to meet and get married, however it is likely that they may continue to embrace the smaller, more intimate nuptial event. How can your venue continue to meet this demand for micro weddings?
Do you have a smaller space that you can offer to more intimate gatherings which would otherwise be lost in a vast barn or hall? Couples are also recognising that micro weddings create an opportunity for more extravagant plans. Instead of limiting their spend to essentials they can incorporate more luxurious styling elements, expand their wedding breakfast menu, upgrade their beverage choice etc. What ways can you enable your couples to enhance their wedding at your venue?
The biggest outcome of the pandemic is the realisation that we are living in a digital world. We still need personal interaction from time-to-time but technology has created the convenience of being able to take action remotely. Venues must make sure that they are up-to-date with their digital communication methods to access their remote audience. Up-to-date websites and communication methods, digital booking processes, a strong social media presence and continued investment in digital technology is required if you are to continue to find an audience in an ever expanding and advancing wedding and events market.
Our world is constantly changing and our customers ever evolving. Being able to adapt, change, pivot and flex is crucial if we are to keep up with changing consumer demands. Venues must continue to work with their customers, listen to their needs, compromise where possible and adapt when necessary. The customer is king and only by acknowledging this will we truly be able to ensure we give them the best experience.
About the Author
Charlotte Winship has over 20 years’ experience transforming good wedding and events venues into great ones. She is an expert in helping venues reach their ideal customers, maximise sales opportunities, increase profitability, establish effective teams and streamline operations. 07493 350303 /firstname.lastname@example.org / www.charlottewinship.com