AMA’s Amy spoke to Ed Lee, Partnership Development Manager at PatronBase, about trends and opportunities he’s seeing around re-opening in the UK.
With over 25 years of experience in ticketing, venue and operational management, Ed’s got a thorough insight into what venues need and want. Here he shares some of his tips and observations about what’s currently trending.
Q: What trends are you seeing with venues about re-opening?
A: We’re seeing cautious optimism. For visitor attractions and heritage sites with outdoor spaces, they’ve gone ahead with April re-opening as much as they can. Other venues are waiting to see whether or not reopening can go ahead – and if it can, whether it’s viable. Some are planning to open in June, others are planning for July, to build in some room in case the Government timescales change.
With social distancing impacting capacity, some theatres are planning to re-open even later. If you’ve got 400 seats but capacity is only 80 with distancing, it’s not viable to open. For larger venues, if you’ve got 1000 seats, but capacity is only 350 with distancing, booking smaller scale touring companies is more likely to be a viable option to “pack out” the house. We’re seeing larger theatres are holding off booking big names until they’re in a position to have a properly full house.
In general, we’re seeing a lot of the revenue-maximising events being planned for 2022. A lot of venues holding off from booking “big hitters” in 2021, until they’re in a more confident position.
Q: What trends are you seeing around bookings?
A: Sales are moving. Audiences want to book, but after the late 2020 easing of lockdown and then the January 2021 reversal, they’re more hesitant in case they can’t go.
We’ve seen more last-minute buying behaviour with online events. But when it’s something ticketed, for some our of visitor attraction clients, we are seeing people booking early to get a timeslot so they can get their tickets, and demand here is high.
The good news is there is an appetite to engage, and we’re expecting that to start converting into more bookings for the sector.
Q: What’s the mix of “online” and “on location” planning looking like as things ease?
Moving forward, initially we’re expecting a big spike of interest in attending in person as things re-open, and a drop-off of online activity. Everyone who is fed up of screens will be raring to go – but longer-term we’re expecting probably a balance, at a point where some people want certain events streamed at home and some want to go out.
Having the option to attend either online or in person can potentially add to the revenue opportunities for venues. Streaming online events has been huge during lockdown, and people have got used to that.
Some of our venues are doing bookable events as stream at home, and it’s a way to mitigate some of the uncertainty by continuing to have that offer. We’ve had interesting conversations around how PatronBase can really help them take advantage of all the opportunities, especially given the need to quickly adapt from online to offline – and reverting back again, should it be necessary.
Q: What tips can help venues as they re-open after lockdown?
Because PatronBase is a global company, and because Covid-19 has affected different countries differently, and different governments have responded differently, we’ve seen a lot of scenarios play out. This has been great for us as we’ve been able to adapt and plan for different cases, by seeing what was happening with customers in other parts of the world.
New Zealand and Australia are ahead of the curve for re-opening, but it’s been really interesting learning from American territories too, because Covid is dealt with on a State level, there’s a lot of variety in whether you can be relaxed or not.
At PatronBase UK, we used this insight and spent 2020 focusing on development and expansion of the product. So some of the things which have helped venues re-open, we’ve focused functionality around that.
Tips vary based on the type of organisation, their size and staffing. I would say a key tip is to look to where you, as a venue, can get support from your existing networks and suppliers. At PatronBase we’ve spent a lot of time helping and guiding our customers, and been told it’s been a really useful source of support for them
A really important tip is to make sure you have thought through the upsell opportunities and buying processes. A lot of our thinking has focused on this for our customers.
So, for food and beverage orders, how can you still use that as a source of income, while complying with health and safety. How can you make this easy and contactless?
A lot of venues needed help with this, but it’s really about what works for your venue, customers and staff.
So, if your bar can’t open, can you do contactless click and collect for buying drinks and snacks? Or can you offer the ability to pre-order beverages at the time of booking tickets? Or could you even order food and drinks that will be placed on their seat ahead of their arrival?
We’ve looked at how to configure all of that and make it possible to sell food online as an easy add on to a ticket booking. You also have to make sure there is sensible reporting in place in the venue, so you know which customers have got food, which are outstanding and so on. The food and beverage app we worked on in 2020 has helped a lot of venues with this. The aim is to make it seamless for customers, and painless for venues to do safely.
Getting contactless right is important too, to make people feel safe. We’ve seen a lot of venues implement scanners for the first time, from complex handheld scanners to mobile device apps, working really well.
It’s also important to remember that while contactless methods are important for health and safety, but on its own it’s not a quick fix. Ticket kiosks can work really well for click-and-collect, but you need to make sure you get the right equipment and it is accessible. Again, we’ve helped customers with this as we’ve seen instances where kiosks haven’t worked as people have struggled to use buttons or extract tickets, and staff have had to be used to help out with the kiosks. Obviously that’s not ideal, so it’s important to think through the whole process, or speak to someone with experience. Whether that’s someone like PatronBase, who provides that end-to-end service and can share the learning, or other venues. We provide complete solutions of both hardware and software for this, which has been invaluable to a lot of organisations doing this for the first time.
Q: A lot of tickets had to be cancelled and converted to credit or refunded. What’s going to happen to all those tickets now?
A: Some organisations and customers turned the ticket fees into a donation, some refunded, but for the most part we’ve seen the tickets go on as credit. On the PatronBase user forum we’ve been advising people on how to handle that.
In general, we recommend that people set an expiry date for credit, and if it’s not used after that date, it automatically becomes a donation. It’s important to make sure you remind people when it’s time to use their credit, and you communicate that message well, but we’ve seen a lot of organisations do this very successfully and raise a lot of donated income.
Q: What’s next?
At the moment we’re waiting to see if the next deadline date in July for the lifting of restrictions is going to happen or not. We have a number of new customers going live with PatronBase over the coming weeks we are busy on that and also working with our existing customers to ensure they are being attended to and getting all the support they need to help them re-open. Apart from that, it’s about making sure everything is adaptable and agile as possible. Unfortunately, we all need to be prepared for things to change, and at short notice.
We’ve made sure that with our system, we can add new functions quickly but also that everything is reversible, so can be adapted if guidelines and rules change or if we needed to go into lockdown again.
Overall though, we’re remaining cautious optimistic around re-opening and looking forward to getting out and engaging with arts and culture out and about again.