Tuesday, April 16, 2024
HomeRLI Food for ThoughtFor the love of leisure...

For the love of leisure…

Jonathan Doughty, the “RLI Food Guy” is a “C level” executive in the foodservice and leisure industry with 45 years of experience and leadership in restaurants, hotels and global consulting. In this month’s column Jonathan takes a look at how the leisure sector has rebounded following the “official” end to the global pandemic.

For the love of leisure... 1

On 5th May 2023, the World Health Organisation ended the global emergency status for COVID-19, more than three years after its original declaration. This was the “official” end to the global pandemic, but by the time this happened, the world and especially the world of leisure, was very aware that the pandemic had ended.

The definition of leisure as “the time when you are free from work or other duties and can relax” has been completely re-written in the last two years. As lockdowns lifted and normal life returned, the public returned to leisure. In the same way that our guests returned to restaurants, they did the same for every type of leisure in large numbers and with a renewed passion.

The net result of restricting people’s local movement, freedom and ability to travel for over two years is that their lives were put on hold, they bottled up their wishes, desires and passions and waited until the day they could go out again. When that day came, it has been an almost unrelenting torrent of demand since then. Wonderful for the businesses that were closed during COVID-19, but it has also presented massive issues and challenges in resourcing both people, services and products and being able to take advantage of the desire, in a world where demand is currently exceeding supply, or it certainly feels like that.

Look at some global statistics if you are in any doubt:
On 26th May 2023 flightradar24.com tracked 22,000 flights in the air at the same time worldwide, a new record, with more than 253,000 flights tracked on 25th May, another new single day record.

Between April 2023 and June 2023, there were a total of 10.3 million visits to DCMS sponsored museums and galleries in the UK. This was 22.6 per cent larger than the same period in 2022. This is lower (19.2 per cent) compared to pre-pandemic 2019.

Louvre Abu Dhabi has welcomed more than 200,000 visitors between the months of June and August 2023, reporting a record peak in summer visitation since the museum’s opening in 2017.

Magic Kingdom Park at Disney World, the world’s most-visited theme park, attracted 17.1 million visitors in 2022, a huge 35 per cent increase over 2021, but 18 per cent less than the 21 million visitors pre-pandemic 2019.

Several examples from around the world which point to a significant and sustained recovery but I would caution that numbers are largely still not back to 2019 levels in some cases. I would not worry though, despite the lower numbers than 2019 most businesses are ahead in sales – mostly down to a confusing mix of increased prices, inflation and most importantly, the guest just choosing to buy more. There is no doubt we are treating ourselves more right now.

Restaurants are reporting higher ATVs (average transaction values) more items per order per person and price sensitivity seems to be a little less, despite the global financial issues. My “take outs” from this are really simple and in my mind, clear, for leisure and actually also for restaurants:

• Price is less important, experience is more important
• Free or paid attractions – people want to get out and enjoy themselves
• Family & friend moments are major events after the pandemic
• Travel is back – business, tourist, and people are hungry for experiences
• “15 minute holidays” are being taken every day with a treat, drink, or snack
• Going out is back in full force, although the working week has changed a lot
• Leisure and food are providing the social glue that “sticks” people together
• Emotional experiences are highly rated even if they are free
• Large gatherings of people are strongly desired and mostly sold out
• New locations and new destinations are competing with “loved” favourites
• The travel, tourism and hospitality industries are struggling to keep up

We are lucky, let’s face it, to have this huge demand from consumers who are less price sensitive and are eager to get out and enjoy. What I am most interested in is the synergistic approach that many property and locations owners are taking. Shopping centres have for a long time been good or even great at food, some are leading on leisure but many are now majoring in art and performance, experiences and learning. Conversely many museums, galleries and theatres are investing in better and more stylish food and beverage, other leisure uses in their spaces when not running performances and all have a really strong focus on retail as a revenue stream. Consumer convergence is the way I describe what is happening – a coming together of multiple, separate activities, moments and experiences in one place, giving the guest something better as a result. I have no doubt that the winners in this game will be those that work harder at going further for the guest, using both physical and digital ways to enhance the experience from “first thought” to “final memories” – we are in the experience game and it is not just about a selfie, a photo, a memory but about the “emotional index” of these life events.

One of the most interesting experiences I have had recently was at the Festival of Lights in Berlin, a free to experience event delivered every year at Potsdamer Platz. Thousands of people come to view the projections and the light experiences. On the famous open square, I witnessed people dancing in the lights, posing, photo shooting, hugging, kissing, laughing and crying in an emotional, shared, outpouring – it was wonderful to see and be part of and I knew how everyone else was feeling, even though I knew nobody there, as the hair was standing up on the back of my neck. No tears, but I really had to take care.

Shared emotions and shared experiences – it is what people love and live for.