Event Opportunities in a COVID-19 World

Venues and Ventures’ Iain Beaumont delivers some positive news about an end of year bounce back.

2020 has unequivocally taken the top spot on the ‘worst year for the events industry’ podium and the early outlook for the remainder of the season is not looking great.

Countries around the globe have cancelled their traditional season of frivolity, celebrations and gatherings and those who find themselves at the heart of this industry have suffered immensely.

The immediate impact of the lockdown and wide-reaching travel restrictions has been felt most acutely by those businesses who rely on social engagement. With venues currently closed for business and new bookings failing to materialise, the severity of the situation cannot be underplayed. Perhaps the only issue that is giving even greater alarm pertains to the future: how will the events, hospitality and tourism industry recover once restrictions are finally eased?

Well, there is good news.

Lockdown isn’t going to be forever, and people are missing the vital hedonistic fix that is achieved through sharing experiences together. As a consequence, there are opportunities for both venues and suppliers to help deliver.

The autumn/winter calendar
I suspect everyone reading this will have already thought long and hard about recovering lost income from the lucrative spring/summer season. While hosting events in the latter part of the year presents its own set of challenges, I’m going to look at some of the opportunities available. Before I go into the details, there are a few key points which should influence part of your planning process:

  • Social distancing restrictions: Currently set at a minimum of two metres when interacting with strangers, this is possibly the most challenging aspect that you need to consider. While we wait for further updates from the government, it would be prudent to include social distancing measures as part of your planning
  • Public sentiment: A survey released by Ipsos MORI in early May suggests that 67 per cent of the British population are not comfortable attending large public gatherings if lockdown restrictions were to end now. Taking this study into account, you will need to ensure clear messaging and reassurance in order to maximise attendance at any future events in the near term
  • Supplier availability: The easing of lockdown restrictions will lead to renewed vigour in arranging events that were due to take between March–August and as a consequence suppliers are likely to be in high demand. As a venue you may be competing for resources at a particularly busy time. It would be sensible to start having discussions now and identifying dates that work for all parties
  • Disposable income: The full effects of the lockdown have yet to be fully realised but I am predicting a painful recession over the latter quarters of 2020, potentially running well into 2021. As a result, consumer spending will be tapered against previous years and disposable income will be limited. Creating an attractive proposition and modelling the pricing structure will be of key importance.

Outdoors but inside
As the temperature drops and the chance of precipitation rises, holding an event outside is much riskier any time after September, but with carefully considered preparation there are ways you can mitigate the risk. Taking a concept that has been in existence over in the US since the arrival of mass automobile ownership, you may wish to look at the option of holding productions where your audience are able to remain in the relative warmth and comfort of their car.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to run a ‘drive-in cinema’. By utilising wide open spaces (fields, parkland, car parks or even disused airfields), you can safely accommodate a large number of paying guests to attend events without fear of breaking social distancing rules.

By utilising online ticket portals and on-site check-in technology, you should be able to keep contact to an absolute minimum. You should also consider a refreshment ‘drive-thru’ to generate secondary spend and add to the experience.

If the ‘drive-in’ experience is an option you wish to consider, please get in touch to see how we can help.

PIC: Getty Images

Virtual events
This has been discussed extensively over a number of event forums in the last couple of months and you can certainly use it to your advantage. By holding an event virtually, you address the issue of social distancing in an instant, but it is undoubtedly harder to attract an audience, let alone generate revenue. If this is an area you wish to consider, you could specialise in behind the scenes tours, or create a one-off experience showcasing suppliers working in different spaces of a venue (e.g. create a winter light show, cookery experience in the woods etc.). You can take this a stage further by providing advertising slots or marketing promotions for suppliers who you work with… it will be hugely appreciated and help consolidate support going forwards.

Timed events
A relatively straightforward opportunity exists where you are able to schedule an activity over a prolonged time period to avoid unnecessary crowding. One of the most effective way of achieving this is through organised sporting activities such as walks or runs in outdoor spaces. The Parkrun movement has been incredibly successful over the years and running a similar event (either in conjunction with Parkrun or an established running/orienteering club) but designating strict, individual start times, is one way to resolve crowded start-lines.

Events such as these tend to support a specific charity, so there are ample opportunities to partner with local community groups who would benefit from the support. It is also a great time to showcase your 2021 calendar of events to a captive audience.

Active mature man running in summer park
PIC: Getty Images

For those venues and suppliers who are looking ahead, offering pre-season discounts or packages to entice people to sign up to your services, event or attraction in 2021 will certainly help build the pipeline. However, you are also generating a wider marketing base that you can begin to form relationships with before the events world gets back to firing on all cylinders. Use this time to forge new relationships and foster existing ones. If the opportunity comes along to host an event in late 2020, you will find that guests are more likely to be comfortable attending if they have been given strong reassurances in advance.

When it comes to any form of future event planning, ensure that you get adequate insurance to cover you in case of any further restrictions which make running a live event impossible. While I’m not a specialist in insurance policy terminology, I would strongly recommend getting an insurer to be absolutely explicit about any exemptions and restrictions regarding your policy before signing on the dotted line. One of the key aspects you should look at is whether you are covered for communicable diseases, and whether future COVID-19 (or associated strains) outbreaks are covered.

A pretty woman is standing on the path under the Christmas lights in the winter park.
PIC: Getty Images

On a final note, I would expect that some of the traditional Autumnal events which are embedded into our calendars will continue to go ahead. Therefore, with careful planning and changes to the way that you manage large groups of people (do go through your risk assessments), I very much hope that we’ll see firework displays in November and illuminated parks and gardens in December.

Iain Beaumont is founder of consultancy Venues and Ventures, advising landowners and estates on their diversification into events. Iain previously ran the events business for the 16,500 acre Cowdray Estate in West Sussex. Prior to that he was castle director at Powderham Castle, running a large number of outdoor music events and festivals as well as a thriving visitor business.

01865 803 432 / 07990 521 719

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