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Ascot, United Kingdom
Founded: 2003
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September 6, 2017

As the alarm sounds at 5:20 am, giving me ample warning to ready myself for an early train into London, I think I can be forgiven for thinking ‘Why do we run events? Why couldn’t we just write a blog about the leisure industry and drive some brand awareness that way?’

Check out the highlights video here

The reason is, events work. Digital can only get one so far in terms of creating an experience, and this was pretty much the crux of what we wanted to get across at our Digital in Leisure event last Thursday.

As a technology company, we should be promoting VR, Digital and screen based experiences, and coming up with a smattering of ideas that could nullify the need for an actual physical event, with humans, in a room, watching slides. But in doing that, we’d be invalidating the very topic we wanted to discuss - how digital can be used to scale and enhance the real world event, not replace it.

We had amazing and insightful speakers from Merlin, Goodwood, The Historic Royal Palaces, and The Lakes Distillery, all of whose businesses rely on people gathering in a real world space to enjoy a real world experience. We wanted to show the audience how digital can be used to ensure greater value for customers, and not just to see digital as a way to market and gain awareness.

We all have a big job on our hands, you see, unfortunately, there is a continuously blurring line between what is considered digital entertainment, and real life entertainment. Digital is quick and convenient, while real world events are better at creating life long memories and evoking emotions. I say we have a job on our hands because, unfortunately, for 12% of teenagers, the ‘most exciting experience of the past 12 months’ was a new series coming out on Netflix.

With disposable income getting squeezed year on year, leisure spend really needs to represent great bang for buck, and when a day trip to a theme park can cost the same as a year’s worth of amazing television, coupled with the fact consumers don’t really value physical entertainment any different than couch entertainment - we need to do more to compete. The leisure industry needs to step up and start to embrace all the great convenient benefits of digital while remaining unique in the fact that they can offer a truly memorable experience.

So if we can leverage technology to create more value, to drive excitement, to enhance the day itself and allow visitors to relive and experience moments after the event, we are starting to compete, on value terms, with a pure digital experience. While at the same time maximising people’s engagement to second as brand advocates and enjoy some free marketing.

All speakers demonstrated references of how they are using technology to meet the growing needs of consumer expectations, from paperless ticketing, right through to traffic management to ensure easier flows on busy event days. Simon Gardiner from Goodwood explained how they will soon be offering tailored programmes, eliminating FOMO and giving visitors the opportunity to plan their day before arriving. This incidentally is something we’ve been working on, with the Ascot Racecourse App and Liberty Science Center in New Jersey, whereby before visiting the museum, children are encouraged to enter their interests, visit length, and even weather will play a part in creating the ultimate itinerary for their day - with each section backed up with further information on their website to, as we’ve alluded to previously, provide ongoing value and engagement beyond the day itself.

The real insight, however, came out during the Panel session at the end, where questions from the audience were answered on GDPR, consumer expectations, and of course, Brexit.

So a big thank you once more to Simon Gardiner from The Goodwood Group, Tim Powell of Historic Royal Palaces, Ulf Tiedemann of Merlin, and Karen Ripley of The Lakes Distillery for providing such interesting real world insights, and of course the staff at The Collective in Bedford Square for their amazing event space.

A white paper supporting the event, entitled Consumer Expectations: The Driving Force Behind Digital in Leisure, can be downloaded here, and in true spirit of extending the experience through digital, we will be releasing videos and further content throughout the rest of the month.