- Everyone’s worried about what will happen next, after COVID?
- Will people be slow to go out again?
- Or, are they bursting to get out?
- Evidence from London’s Swingers suggests many people can’t wait to get out
- So we predict a resurgent real world Experience Economy in 2021 and the 2020s
There’s been so much speculation about how life might change post-pandemic, particularly in the parts of our lives that previously centred around face-to-face interaction.
- Will city centres once again hustle and bustle?
- Will people still endure slavish commutes to offices when they could just work from home? Will retail customers return to a traditional store environment when they’ve become accustomed to the easy and seamless process of a few clicks online followed shortly by a knock at the door?
- And when work is finished – wherever work actually is – how will we kick back and relax?
- Will we still want to congregate in groups? to eat, drink, celebrate or commiserate and enjoy the thrill of human interaction?
Why listen to me?
I’m no epidemiologist, behavioural scientist or psychologist, but as the co-CEO of an entertainment hospitality business, with two big locations in central London – and as someone with some data here – I do have a singular view point on the last question of whether people still want to socialise.
A Beginner’s Guide to Swinging
First, let me quickly explain exactly what my business does and what eight months of navigating a lockdown has looked like for us.
The business I co-run, with my business partner and friend, Jeremy Simmonds, is called Swingers.
- To pre-empt all of the usual raised eyebrows and terrible jokes, it’s a concept with crazy golf at its core
- We have 2 x 20,000 square foot locations, in Oxford Circus and the City of London
- They combine crazy golf, cocktails and delicious street food from restaurateurs like
- Pizza Pilgrims
- Breddos Tacos
- Hackney Gelato
- Our City location is styled on a 1920s English country golf club
- Our Oxford Circus venue takes crazy golf back to its roots on the English Riviera.
- The experience is completed with warm, friendly service from our amazing team of caddies, bartenders and servers.
191 Days Closed
To cut a long story short, we closed in mid March, and didn’t open till September, and we’re closed again now.
We learned a lot from that brief moment in the sun.
Even though people were allowed out again after the first lockdown, consumer confidence in hospitality was decimated. Central London was like a ghost town.
To reassure our guests and comply government guidelines, we retrained our staff, and redesigned large parts of the experience:
- reduced capacities
- no standing to eat and drink
- face masks
- enhanced cleaning
- social distancing
- a new WebApp for food and drink ordering and table service throughout the venue.
And you know what? It worked.
In the six weeks before the second lockdown that we were able to reopen, a few things are clear:
- People are bursting to get out: the need for shared experiences and social interaction is as present now as it always has been.
- Sell-out: we sold more than 25,000 tickets, selling over 80% of our available inventory, in those six weeks
- Last minute booking: on average customers were only booking seven days ahead, as opposed to a month ahead before lockdown.
- Cocktail mania: The most popular drinks of our reopening period were mainly cocktails:
- our XXX Martini
- our frozen Pina Colada
- our One Armed Bandit
- … closely followed by Beavertown Neck Oil, served by the pint.
(Usually there’s more wine and beer in the top sellers, suggesting people were looking for a more special night out.)
- Hey big spenders: on average our customers spent nearly £40 per person
(That’s similar to normal, slightly up. But exciting to know people are still spending.)
- Last chance booking: when Lockdown 2 was announced there was another flurry of ticket buying. Our last night on Wednesday 4 November was sold out.
Can’t Wait For Covid To End
So we are closed again.
But this lockdown feels different.
Last time, we shut our doors, we didn’t know what might come next.
But now we know that the fundamentals that we had built our business on were unchanged.
And that while there will be many who will stay away, for their own medical and social reasons, there’s a large swathe of people who don’t feel at risk and will be the first out of the door, and doing all they can to make up for lost time.
So, when all of this ends, and the COVID era is behind us, I predict a huge release in pent up energy and enthusiasm, and the world will socialise like never before.
It will be incredible to witness and be part of. Bring it on.
About The Author: Matt Grech-Smith
A member of the WXO Fouding Circle, Matt is co-founder of one of London’s most successful immersive experience firms. The Institute for Competitive Socialising’s Swingers started as a pop-up in Shoreditch, and is now in two permanent locations in London – the City and the West End. They raised £28m ($35m / €30) in 2018 in order to expand. The next sites opens in the US in 2021 in New York City and somewhere else – the second location is currently a secret.