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  • What leisure experiences get people out of the house?
  • What leisure experiences get people out of the house?
    Joe Schwartz, Creative Commons (2010) ©
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2015 Expert Outlook on Leisure

How will we be spending our spare time in 2015? Will we be cocooning at home or trekking across town to discover the latest pop-up? How will the experience of attending a festival change and why is digital a danger to the leisure sector?

Location North America / Northern Europe

Scope
How will we be spending our spare time in 2015? For the leisure Expert Outlook 2015 Canvas8 speaks to Ivor Wilkins, director at music events company MAMA, Randy White CEO of White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group and Ray Jones, business development director at Time Out London.

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Ivor Wilkins, director at MAMA & Company
In 2015, festivals will be less about artists, and more about the event experience as a whole. In 2014, our competitors had a bit of a rocky year. They booked big artists and paid them 100% of the ticket money. This didn’t allow them to invest in the infrastructure of the overall experience. MAMA benefitted from creating lifestyle events based, not only on headline artists, but on the overall experience of being at an event - it’s much more about food, about keeping people engaged. And its about being brand-driven rather than just artist-driven.

People have money, they’re just being a lot more precious about how they spend it. They’re going to places where they get more their buck. What we’re finding - and very much to our benefit - is that people are arriving at our events earlier, and they stay all day because we are actually engaging with them. People want to entertained and educated, as well as enjoy the music.

Lovebox has changed for a music festival to a lifestyle festival Lovebox has changed for a music festival to a lifestyle festival
Edward Simpson, Creative Commons (2010) ©

For 2015, we’re seriously looking at RFID cashless systems. At Lovebox this year, we sold out. But on the Saturday we found ourselves in a predicament. At 4:30pm we only had about 12,500 people in the event. Between 4:30pm and 6:30pm, 28,000 people arrived and they all wanted a drink at the same time. As a result there were queues for everything.

RFID will be a great way for us to streamline many aspects of the festival experience. People would pay in advance, put credit on a wristband and get served quicker. It allows people to manage their own money, too. And it’ll enable us to understand and analyse the drinking habits of our customers. Basically, it’s going to be invaluable in pre-planning next year’s events.

There’s a blur of what people listen to these days. They want to see different styles and cultures because they all intermix

There are downsides, of course. People in Holland, for example, are already very accepting of RFID payments, but for people over here, they’re just not used to it. They’re hesitant, it’s a trust issue. So will it work? I think that those who are less well off are more likely to be concerned about putting money on a wristband, whether it will work properly or glitch at any point.

There are so many benefits, though. It’s non-transferable, and if you lose it and it can be cancelled straight away. Someone else can't use your information or take it and spend it elsewhere, and there’s also a lot of pre-programming that can do things like prevent underage drinking. We always have problems with licensing – young people will always try and buy alcohol. But RFID wristband wallets could be the perfect solution.

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Randy White, CEO of White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group
In 2015, there’s going to be a continuation of a trend we’ve been seeing for a while: leisure migrating to the digital world. Given that you can now readily access music, movies and entertainment on your TV and mobile device, you don’t need to go out. And when you look at participation and spending, it says things are dramatically going in that direction, too. However, this trend is negatively affecting leisure outlets across the board. Attendance of sporting events, cinemas and bowling alleys are all down.

The market has shrunk, and what’s attracting people from this smaller market is what we call high fidelity experiences. Why settle for just popcorn, drinks and the cinema when you can pay a little more for a fully themed evening, complete with fancy dress such as Secret Cinema? These are top-of-the-line experiences, and these are the only things that’ll get people away from their screens and out of their homes. And people are prepared to pay for that.

People are cocooning at home – there’s no reason to leave

But mostly, people are cocooning at home – there’s no reason to leave. Money’s being spent on technology and subscriptions. You can go online or use an app to order almost anything directly to your door. This increased spending on home electronics is enabling people to have a full cinematic experience from the comfort of their couch.

Technology is getting better and it’s getting more exciting. Maybe we’re going to have virtual reality at home. But that’s the problem for traditional leisure activities: technology is advancing very rapidly, which in turn makes the out-of-home venues less attractive unless they’re truly fantastic.

You can download MP3s for close to nothing, but when people go to a concert, they’ll pay $100 for a ticket because it’s an ‘over the top’ experience. It doesn't have to be once-in-a-lifetime, but it has to be great. Factors like convenience, cost and experience all have to be balanced out.

People can have the full cinematic experience of a movie from the comfort of their couch People can have the full cinematic experience of a movie from the comfort of their couch
Joe Hunt, Creative Commons (2012) ©

Look at where the big theme parks are going. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is increasing the fidelity of the experience to keep people coming to theme parks. The top theme parks are doing well; the mediocre are dying. We’re seeing this across the board. It’s the same for shopping – retailers need to be great or else people are not going to leave their homes.

It used to be that we designed for the middle class, and you didn’t have to be fantastic, you just needed to provide a service. Now, the middle class has shrunk dramatically, and market share is shifting continually to the higher income bracket. It just keeps shifting. The top 20% and 30% income households are the market today, and they’re willing to pay for the premium experience, provided it’s good enough.

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Ray Jones, business development director at Time Out London
From a Time Out perspective, our focus is on engagement. We are curating bespoke events aimed specifically at our readership. We’re making things happen that we think they’ll want to experience. And since Time Out is about discovery and innovators, we tend to create new events rather than copying others.

Brands outside of the leisure sector are associating themselves with events, using unique experiences to add value for their consumers. They’re telling their customers: “because you’re a client of this brand, we’ll enable you to have ‘X’ experience.” O2 Priority Moments is a great example. Similarly, you can’t go to a festival now without seeing stands of seats reserved for Vodafone customers. We’ve also seen Amex running advanced booking services for tickets.

You want to go to the office the next day and say; “you’ll never guess what I did last night." That’s bragging rights. That’s human nature.

This is going to continue in 2015. Look at Converse. They sponsor a ton of gigs at spots like The 100 Club in London. At the end of the day, they’re a shoe brand. But they’re sending a message that they’re a bit down and dirty, they’re a bit rock ‘n’ roll. Jack Daniels has been aligning itself with a certain style of music. These brands are building lifestyles that transcend the products they’re known for.

On the other hand, take a look at the restaurant business. The pop-up boom means known brick-and-mortar establishments are out on the street, creating new experiences based upon the same food offering. Events and leisure can be manipulated to suit any number of brands or sectors.

There are shifts happening within leisure now, but it’s affecting different areas in different ways. Take music. With a few exceptions, the days of walking into a store and buying CDs are over. You’ve got the trendies buying vinyl and you’ve got people downloading tracks. So bands performing live and creating incredible experiences have become integral to keeping the revenue flowing. That’s a strategic shift. By comparison, whether restaurants continue to do pop-ups or not remains to be seen. There’s still a question mark over whether it’s a fad or here to stay.

Now more than ever, events managers are challenging themselves to be more creative and really push the envelope. Take the Rooftop Film Club. They’re taking over roofs and car parks in places like Shoreditch and Peckham and screening movies to people sitting in deck chairs and wearing headphones. People watch on the big screen with a blanket whilst looking out at some of the most iconic views in London. Bloody brilliant! Why wouldn’t you wanna do that?

Converse sponsors tons of music gigs. They’re a shoe brand, but they’re a bit rock ‘n’ roll Converse sponsors tons of music gigs. They’re a shoe brand, but they’re a bit rock ‘n’ roll
Arièle, Creative Commons (2013) ©

Similarly, Time Out has been hosting silent discos in iconic settings across London – locations like The Shard, Altitude and Centrepoint. There are four DJs competing and everyone who attends –  some 350 people – wear headphones that are illuminated with four different colours that correspond to what DJ they’re listening to. Meanwhile, the views are spectacular – especially at night. The challenge in events is always to come up with new things and new places that really appeal to your marketplace. This appeals to Time Out’s audience of young, urban professionals. But maybe if I was appealing to the newly retired, I’d be doing wine-tastings, or something a little more upmarket.

If you’re going to spend money on something, you want it to be valuable. If you’re going to do something in you’re free time, you want it to memorable – after all, people are time-poor, and more precious with their leisure time than ever. And thirdly, you want to go to the office the next day and say: “You’ll never guess what I did last night!" That’s bragging rights. That’s human nature. If an event leaves you not wanting to share the next day, that event has failed.

Author
Lore Oxford