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The hour before the dawn is the darkest

It has been so dark. Normal life has been suspended, and there have been many casualties. Over 100,000 people have died in the UK alone, and of course this has needed to be of the gravest concern and highest priority for the government, and yet, as a direct consequence of its actions to protect society, the economy has suffered it greatest trauma for over 300 years. A reduction in GDP of 9.9% in 2020, unprecedented in modern times, even though we some how avoided a second recession in December.

The Sports, Leisure and Hospitality sectors have bore the brunt of this contraction, with a year of disruption and save for a short, perhaps life saving period during the summer, have been forced to close their doors.

Thank goodness for the governments furlough scheme which has allowed many venues to at least reduce their losses and perhaps protect themselves for reopening in the spring.

During the current cold snap of February 2021, normality seems a long way off, but just perhaps, with Spring and warmer weather around the corner there is hope. Perhaps even more than hope, for businesses that survived, maybe there is an opportunity for prosperity.

Although not everyone has been saved by the governments furlough scheme, and redundancies have pushed unemployment up to above 5%, government figures suggest that household savings (as a ratio of income) has increased from 9.6% in Q1 2020 to 29.1% in Q2 of 2020 with deposits in banks increasing by £44.6 billion by Q2 2020.

Household debt has fallen sharply, and it is estimated that Britons have now amassed around £100 billion of “excess savings” during the Coronavirus lockdown

It is believed that this “pent up demand” could help the UK economy, and in particular, the leisure and hospitality sectors, to rebound strongly from Q2 of 2021 onwards. This is potentially further enhanced by the fact that international travel still seems a long way off.

2021 is set to be the year of the “staycation”, short breaks, and day trips.

The question is, with the disruption and financial hardship of the past 12 months, how well placed are sports and entertainment venues, and leisure attractions to take advantage of this demand.

Over the past 12 months I have referred to the shift in consumer behaviour partly bought about by Covid-19. Social distancing has been a huge factor in the way the public have been forced to behave, and now, some 327 days since we were first told to lockdown and obey social distancing constraints, there has been perhaps an irreversible shift in consumer behaviour.

Spur of the moment decisions that require queuing and no planning have been reduced to a minimum (and how we have hated queuing in the cold and rain to get into the Supermarket).

Most visitors, out of necessity and also perhaps because they recognise the potential for an improved experience, will now, without thinking, book in advance, with the certain knowledge that that their visit is expected, and planned for within the overall volume of visitors and facilities available.

An “enhanced customer experience” was a central topic of debate prior to the pandemic, but it has taken lockdown and social distancing to bring about what will probably be a permanent change in consumer behaviour.

There are so many advantages for both the visitor and the venue in terms of pre-planned visits. The ability to “lock in” expenditure, schedule a time slot to suit you, and perhaps a point that not everyone has considered, the value of the customer data that is a by-product of an advanced ticket purchase.

Technology clearly has an essential role to play in maximising this opportunity for UK venues (we have already seen its impact in retail with a huge growth in profits for Amazon at the same time as the death of traditional retailers such as Arcadia and Debenhams).

It is perhaps a surprise that it has taken such a long time for online bookings to be fully established within the Sports and Leisure sectors. It is nearly 25 years since easyjet and Ryanair revolutionised the air travel sector and expedia became the first online travel agent!

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Certainly, tradition has a large part to play in Sports ticketing, and the weather contributes to spontaneous decisions for visitor attractions, but it does appear a corner has been turned and with it a raft of new technology driven opportunities for Sports and Leisure venues and an improved, extended experience for the visitor.

I shall explore some of these technological and process benefits in future posts and try to give some insight and measurement as to the most valuable components.  In these darkest of hours, there is hope, dawn will soon break and now is the time to prepare for the upswing, to make sure they are beneficiaries when the brakes finally come off and, essentially, make prudent investments to ensure that the growth curve is long and sustained.

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

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