Cuts in any area can lead to customer dissatisfaction, but which cuts cost the most? Access editor Tom Hall investigates in our October cover feature.

 

At the risk of fanning planner paranoia, your event could be one amateur paparazzo post from pandemonium.

While social media can frame your festival’s high points in sumptuous sepia tones, going viral can also be a virus for your carefully curated event brand.

Monstrous Festival, an event aimed at children, was a recent victim of this, garnering attention across social media channels when visitor complaints got trending. The underwhelmed sentiments were made all the more vivid after a grainy, portrait-mode capture of a horse masquerading as a unicorn was posted on Twitter. The once noble stallion looked embarrassed to be there, stood as it was with an unconvincing strap-on horn and a backdrop showing the event’s minimal production values.

Underwhelming production, bad toilets, a lack of creativity, queues…the possibilities for consumer complaints are perhaps never more abundant than at an event. However, knowing an audiences’ pinch points can help organisers minimise damage and maximise feels.

A ‘unicorn’ at Monstrous Festival

Recent research by tappit has drawn further insight into what is vexing consumers. Indeed Jason Thomas, Global CEO at tappit says festival goers are expecting more from their chosen festivals than ever before.

“Visiting a festival, whether a food and drink event, a music extravaganza or a low-key gathering should be a time for people to enjoy the moment and experience new sights and sounds,” he says.

Despite this, tappit’s report found that 84% of all respondents worry about theft at a festival.

“73% of festival goers of all ages prefer to use cashless payments. Credit/debit cards remain the most popular method of payment, with a majority preferring the speed of contactless transactions.

“Tokens or wristbands are the preferred choice of almost 10% of our respondents, meaning this method is used by millions each year. There is huge potential for cashless.

“These results reflect the fact that cashless systems are not yet widespread at festivals. However, these statistics clearly prove that people dislike using cash. Couple this with the added benefits that a cashless system provides to organiser and customer – and the transition to cashless should be an easy one to make,” he adds.

The fear of theft is real, but contextual, according to FOIA requests, which ranked festivals according to the risk of being a victim of theft (in a 2017 report in The Times). Download festival topped the list for safety, with a mere 1 in 24,000 chance of being stolen from. The rest of the list sees V Festival faring well at 1 in 10,000; Boardmasters at 1 in 6,000; T in the Park at 1 in 3,400; Glastonbury at 1 in 2,872; Leeds Festival at 1 in 1,818; Latitude at 1 in 1,750; Parklife at 1 in 1,573 We Are Fstvl: 1 in 1,220 Secret Garden Party: 1 in 1,100 Reading Festival: 1 in 880 The Great Escape: 1 in 830 Wilderness: 1 in 769 South West Four: 1 in 640 Wireless, 1 in 531.

The tappit report meanwhile, explored other areas around consumer finances. It found that 79% of festival goers say they have a budget when attending a festival, meaning food and drink, and additional purchases are considered in advance. “24% of festival goers rate carrying too much cash as the worst thing about festivals. This is likely impacted by the increased costs of using ATMs at festivals, and concerns about theft – all of which will affect spending limits. Cashless gives customers the confidence to spend safely. Separate studies have shown that budgets set by event-goers are rarely adhered to, when cashless is used, as the system enables safe and easy spending.”

tappit’s Jason Thomas

Security is also vital when making festival purchases. “68% of festival goers consider security to be the most important factor when making purchases at a festival. This means that, when going cashless, event organisers need to make sure the system they use provides reassurance that data and account details are safe and secure,” Thomas adds.

Meanwhile, 84% of respondents say the worst thing about making a payment at a festival is ‘standing in long queues’. Missing key moments at a festival, or not having the time to enjoy all the highlights leads to negative experiences for festival goers. “57% of festival goers consider expense to be their main concern. This emphasis on spending at a festival shows that festival goers are considering what is in their wallets more than which hygiene products to take with them.”

 

An organiser’s perspective

The issue of queueing is just one facet of the modern festival that the Fair CEO Nick Morgan has seen raising audience stress levels. “Audiences are more savvy than ever before about their consumer rights and about how festivals run operationally. We are seeing a change in criticism and comments on social media that now relate directly to elements of a show such as egress, traffic management, etc. Audience tolerance is less and less and they expect instant gratification and service. Only last week, a customer complained directly to me because he waited more than four minutes in a VIP queue.

“Additionally, they hide behind social media and the culture seems to have been embraced that complaints lead to concessions for future events which is something we do not endorse as its sets a precedent. This means that we are under even more scrutiny and so there is more pressure year on year for shows to be seamless. Not that it is advisable in any way but, even if they wanted to, shows aren’t able to cut corners because of this additional scrutiny as well as the licensing process, pressures from local residents, notwithstanding, the increased competition in the festival market.”

On the plus side, Morgan adds, there are now more shows than ever, and these are selling out or at least meeting their desired ticket sales. However, with more festivals comes more demand on the supply chain. “This includes inventory of course, but also human resources – there is only a finite number of suppliers out there and the demand is increasing all the time for their services so there is definitely an issue developing here which has the potential to pose huge risks to shows.

“This year, we have seen staff reliant suppliers across the board really stretched – the work they do is crucial to the success of shows and they have all had a really tough season. There have also been comments from the transport sector that there is a strain on infrastructure due to the number of shows on over any one weekend especially in London so I can imagine that licensing will take these issues into account next season. There has also been criticism of Local Authorities commercialising their green spaces so as an industry we are increasing up against more barriers.”

With this proliferation of new festivals comes increased pressure to create experiences that hit budget and expectations. It’s a delicate balance that requires knowing where to compromise, according to Chris Tofu MBE.

“We are ‘cultural vibe’ engineers, so our bugbears are around not having proper times to run, and crazily early closing times. The universal situation relating to main stage acts and the answers in developing the audience expectations for amazing off main stage experiences and developing them with even a quarter of the cost of one main stage act is so complex.

“It’s a tough landscape and requires balls of steel, and the cleverest boxing I’ve ever seen is needed.”

Organisers that get the balance right reap the rewards, Tofu adds. “Acts that don’t pull people through the door sometimes are the ones that people will always speak about. On the whole we are in a super ‘vibed up bubble’, so miss out on some of the customers’ regular complaints.

“Things have come on so much in terms of customer care since all this began. Two line-ups can look the same, but on the ground they could be different events with one group absolutely ‘cultish’ about the event as they feel so well treated.

“Trying new and innovative stuff is the future, but so is looking after the punter and making them feel involved. As an organiser, I know it’s super complex. Marketing, and making a noise, is getting harder and harder as we all rely on the same methods and pages (eg Facebook). Like the political situation now, it’s grassroots ­– and people talking to each other –­ that have a massive effect.”

Like Tofu, Morgan agrees that we are reaching a key time for festivals where change is hard to predict. “It felt like this season was at boiling point and we’ll probably soon start to see some shows falling out of the market because of higher standards of expectations,” he says.  “We have, however, this year seen new suppliers in the market  – if we can continue to see more quality suppliers across the board this would greatly help our industry.

“Within our shows we genuinely haven’t seen any cost cutting from promoters and it’s been the other way round where we have on occasion been let down by suppliers who simply could not provide what was procured and PO’d, although some suppliers have been amazing and supported us throughout.”

Indeed, suppliers across the industry have also noticed the swift evolution of festivals, and the complaints that go with it. The all-important factor of toilet standards at festivals is still a frustration to consumers. Abi Philp, business development manager, Loos For Dos, says the company was in the fortunate position in the sanitation industry where historically, loo standards were so low.

“A clean eco toilet is huge relief for most. There has also been a greater concern for the quality of accessible facility supplied to festivals, with many sites ensuring that these loos are isolated and watched by security. This ensures that standards across the whole festival site are high.

Philp also touches on budget reallocation. “We have seen more budget go into traffic management planning, security planning and Health and Safety planning for elements such egress planning and major incident planning – these are elements that we have seen tested with greater interest at SAG’s and table tops.”

Speaking more broadly, she says the need to offer something ‘different’ is more prevalent than ever, with festival organisers having to think outside the box to stand out from competitors. “Having said that consumers know what they like and there is a high percentage of repeat year on year return attendance. Events such as Wings and Wheels and CarFest see huge number of repeat business.

“The consumer expectations are higher than ever, people want to ensure that they are getting their money’s-worth. With the vast array of festivals and events on offer there is the need to ensure that the best line- ups and bar prices are on offer. This has meant that Festivals are having to invest in pre- event advertising and marketing as well as an increased spend in ensuring that they are offering a complete experience to consumers.

“With what we offer at Loos For Dos standards can be driven up by quantities of units on sites as well as considering maintenance throughout the duration of events. Many people are initially drawn to offering a luxury facility to the consumers, however once this is plotted with a budget it may be that the servicing is sacrificed. A clean loo with ample loo roll is a much more consumer friendly option which ultimately drives up the standard of facility on site.”

With consumers being more varied and more vocal than ever, it’s not surprising that complaints are rife. However, in the long run, with the right action, we all benefit.

Michael Hall of C6(n) offers his thoughts on the industry cutting corners:

CDM 2015 was introduced because standards were not good enough. In theory, it meant that short cutting as a result of problem solving under pressure was fine provided it was properly planned, communicated and, did not compromise safety. Has it worked out that way or, is the adaptive industry able to carry on as before…until something goes wrong? Only at that stage does the paper-trail designed to create clear lines of responsibility for managing the safe practice of work emerge. The paper-trail had in essence been ignored and that is when everyone starts to wriggle!

If you have ever attended the breakdown rush at events or exhibitions you will understand the very real pressure experienced –  the book is thrown out the window in the need to comply with strict timetables and potential penalties.   Where is the diligence of the event safety compliance involved in the builds? In fairness to the safety officers most are probably not paid to supervise the back end of the event!

If its not a cultural discipline to do things properly then making bad decisions based on the wrong solutions will continue, however, they will just be better disguised. It makes sense to video record build, breaks and live events to learn and show clients even insurers that risks and liabilities are being professionally managed for their benefit. I suspect that in trying to get that past the industry and you will certainly be blackballed.

Unfortunately, just like travelling on motorways far too often the good guys sticking to the speed limits are the biggest nuisance for everybody else!

The good news is that despite the stalwart resistance, change is inevitable. We see a sustainable future saving clients money so to enable them to finally get off the current bandwagon of cutting corners.

Poll

Which major UK festivals are you planning on attending this year?