Facing the Black Swan - How the Leisure Industry survives COVID-19
We're facing a Black Swan: the second wave of a global pandemic that is impacting mankind and the economy to unprecedented levels. It looks like Europe is at the epicentre of this pandemic once again and the leisure industry is facing one of the biggest challenges of them all.
Due to the latest restrictions, venues are closing their doors without knowing when they will be able to reopen. When revenue drops to zero, and you feel like you have to start over: we can help. In these tough times, our focus is to help you to keep getting income; because although you are momentarily closed, we can still help you encourage immediate bookings. In desperate times, smart measures.
If you read us frequently, then you’ve already seen the different pieces of actionable advice we’ve been sharing on how to react accordingly. Still, the situation is changing continuously at rapid speed, and with every day, there are new learnings and ideas that we can share to empower one another and work through this together.
We have gathered a list of recommendations to help you uplift sales and get ready for the coming season, which is right around the corner:
Although closing signs on venue doors will eventually fade, social distancing is very likely to stay. Ensure safety and control at your venue.
1. Be crystal clear - communicate transparently
This is nothing new; honest and clear communication should have always been one of the most important factors within your marketing, customer service, or sales strategy.
But times like these, ask for more. They do not leave space for discrepancies, unclarity, or lacking information.
Continuous crystal clarity.
Let this be your mantra, not only towards your customers but also for your employees. Get everyone up to date about measures, decisions, and their reasoning. Tools like Slack and Google Hangouts can help you in this matter, especially if your employees are working remotely.
Best practices for your customer support team during a crisis include:
- Creating catered replies to save you some time
- Categorising workflows to identify similar inquiries
- Updating email footers
- Creating a resource page with updated information on the situation, but also policy changes
- When you are not able to keep up: create an automated reply with a URL to a FAQ side for now and ensure them you will get back to them personally soon
- Communication is key in uncertain times
Be efficient but also empathetic. It is important to react quickly - but also in a human way!
Stop thinking like a Business-to-consumer (B2C) business, and start thinking like a Human-to-Human one.
Automation is great. Trust us, we know! But as a software provider that always incorporates the human touch as much as it is possible, we see that especially now, this needs to be as real as it is. Customers need to be cared for in a highly personal way. Be proactive in managing and setting your customers’ expectations.
2. Go with the cash flow
There is no denying, the economic implications of this pandemic have been big. Both for individuals and businesses. Leisure venues have suffered just as much as any others, but with the added weight of high fixed costs. As time moves forward and the pandemic persists, this weight keeps feeling heavier and heavier. It is therefore crucial at this point, that venues take action in order to ensure their future survival by finding initiatives that will encourage immediate cash flow.
- But how can you do that while your venue’s doors are closed?
A safer bet are undated tickets with validity for at least this and the following season. These tickets provide people with the security to not lose money if things do not change as quickly as expected, and, on the other hand, create hope and the feeling of being able to grasp for better times already. It eases visitors’ minds and reminds them that things will blow over eventually.
Meanwhile, it will provide you with the cash you need to survive through this period.
Along with undated tickets, you can promote vouchers, coupons, and gift cards with even longer validity. You can also start selling season passes as a complementary option.
Loyalty based approaches will most likely work with your local and repetitive visitors. Be honest with them and communicate the situation you are in to induce them to buy now and visit later. You could have a banner that says something such as: “Help us to reopen our doors for you. Buy now, visit soon, and guarantee continuous support with one little act.”
Additionally, you can also see if you can chip in a little incentive, something extra for your visitor to look forward to. An example might be free parking or a cone of ice cream to enjoy once they come to visit you.
- Negotiate & ask for support
Whether this is with already existing creditors about extended payment terms, or for new partnerships that you aim for to help you through this - talk to them!
We are all in this together, and many companies realise this by supporting smaller entities to ensure the industry's health is not compromised further than it already is. Thus, give it a chance - talk to them and see if you can meet in the middle.
If you don't ask, the answer will always be "no", right?
If you can't get anywhere with negotiating, make full use of your suppliers' lease or insurance payment terms, but do not pay late.
What we see to be practiced is also sending a letter to the European policymakers requesting industry support, but also requesting this at a local level.
Many governments have already taken actions and adjusted measures regarding taxes and other payment obligations. In the Netherlands, for example, provinces started to set up their own crisis funds since March.
Get in contact with the industry lobbies and associations and inform yourself about possibilities. Have one of your employees focused on this to find the right niches and rules that will apply, and ultimately secure your survival.
We can also recommend joining support groups - such as the IAAPA EMEA Information Exchange Group, to stay updated and talk to individuals and companies who are facing similar difficulties, and learn from how they are handling them.
- Review your cost structures
Of course, this is the time to reduce unnecessary operations and replace slow-moving and obsolete ones with those who have a faster turnover. But be careful! Don’t cut too aggressively in the spur of a moment without thinking about your next move. Compare your cost structures with other businesses in your industry or with your past results to identify clear areas for improvement.
3. Clean your house! No broom involved.
Time to clean up, home office or spare time will give you an opportunity to do so. Your doors are closed. Some departments, such as administration, operation, and marketing staff, may be able to work remotely, but how about the employees who can’t? Here is some inspiration on how you can make the best out of the situation:
Use the time to clean up your operations, get up-to-date with things that are usually left behind, those you never had the time for during high-season.
For example, you can create content audits of your documents, go through your documents, and clean up your files, reorder and re-manage your cloud, drives, and folders. You might even find useful input from the past, which you can reuse again with minimum effort involved!
This also works for restaurant inventory or even arcade game inventory. Let your employees working with this inventory go over order plans, actual use, and see if they can identify relevant patterns that allow improvements.
But this is not all. This time also allows conducting some research or educating your team (virtually) about industry or venue specific measures. Maybe there are plans you have meant to implement but never had the time to get your whole team involved in it? Now you can! Give access to a range of online content, and get them to use their time effectively. How about reviewing your Google Analytics logs and learning from patterns you discover? This is a future proof practice because the data you will come across, the data you already gathered will help you in optimizing for a reopening.
Lastly, if you are short on staff or fear to be short soon due to sickness or absence, cross-train your employees so they can support your venue in more than one department if needed. It will give you the security that work will be done, but also your employees’ security that they will have work!
4. Basically, don’t stop! Start to improve your systems and procedures
As mentioned before, this is not a time to come to a full stop or shove your head in the ground. We understand that many of you might have to slow down. Redistribute assets, but do it wisely.
Use your employees and other resources, as much as you can, by discovering and closing gaps in your current business operations.
An example of this might be your booking system or pricing approach.
Check if your current or past approach really is the best one to re-enter once this period is over. In fact, according to an article by The Drum, 86% of consumers say they have changed their behaviour as a direct result of Covid-19. Most likely, some of your approaches will be obsolete and could use a fresh-look at them. Be ready by preparing now.
Most likely, things will not go back to ‘as per usual’ as quickly as we hope. Especially your booking system needs to be prepared for new modes of social contact and a continuous period of social distancing. You can check the related the related read Navigating the wave of COVID19 2.0: Adapt to the latest shifts in buying behaviour to understand how buying priorities, challenges and habits have shifted to unusual scopes.
Are you more focused on rebuilding your pricing strategy in regard to the situation and its recovery? Have a look at the comprehensive checklist we have composed to get you started on finding your optimal price.
Along with that, you can also think about activating or repurposing existing channels.
Act now; sell more direct tomorrow.
5. Consider Crowd Control
Until there is no cure or the human race does not prove itself to be immune to the virus, not only will governments restrict social interactions and activities, especially those involving crowds, but people will also not behave in a social context as they have previously.
Even if the stores, restaurants, and venues of all kinds are allowed to open again, and they eventually will, it won't be the same.
For now, it appears that social distancing is here to stay.
One last piece of advice:
We know times are rough, but we seem to have discovered a golden rule: Do what you can, and show that you are willing to go the extra step: you want to do more than the government is asking you to do. Your customers, or visitors, and employees need to maintain their trust in you; this is how you reassure them.
We understand that every venue has its own challenges to overcome, and we know we are not the solution to all these problems.
However, please be aware that we are focused on doing everything that is in our power to ensure minimizing loss and overcoming challenges. You can check the related read 3 ideas to keep your leisure venue’s cashflow running during lockdown where we provided different initiatives that will help you keep generating income even if you are closed at this moment.
Reach out to us to find out how we can help you to get a few steps closer to saving your season.
We are All in this together.