Will Startup Tech Save the Great British Summer?
COVID-19 has left its mark on almost every aspect of our lives. Still, there is no doubt that it has hit venues particularly hard. The advocacy group One Industry One Voice estimates that UK events businesses experienced an average 89.5% year-on-year fall in revenue in the August of 2020 alone.
Despite the success of the vaccine campaign, some form of social distancing is expected to remain in place going forward, though governments are trialling mass pre-event testing. Large retail spaces, major attractions and performance venues will have to manage crowd density if they want to maintain confidence and get people coming through the doors again.
The question is how?
Traditional solutions frequently prove inadequate. This was true even in years before COVID-19. Tanuvi Ethunandan, CEO of the crowd management platform Data Duoploy, describes a scene we all know too well: “Visitors reach the visitor centre, everyone follows the same signs and you see the same people in front of you for your whole day out”.
The result? Bottlenecks, queues and unhappy attendees. In the past this might have inspired a bad trip advisor review – now it’s a safety hazard.
Digitalization offers an alternative.
By using tools like anonymous tracking software and smart AI, venues can alleviate crowd management problems without resorting to heavy-handed measures. Data Duopoly offers a real-world example of how this might work in practice. The Cornish start-up provides an app which can be downloaded for free and anonymously tracks attendees on site. This gives venues an invaluable real-time map of crowd density. Customers can access the same data, which gives them the tools they need to make informed decisions.
However, this technology has the potential to do more than track attendees – by using push notifications and reactive discounting – the platform can be used for direct crowd flow too. For example, if a large venue knows where its users are, it can select a certain number of visitors in a crowded area and send them targeted notifications. These might let them know about an upcoming attraction (like a live show), or offer monetary discounts which direct custom to retail attractions on site.
Ethunandan was keen to point out that these offers often generate more revenue by encouraging spending. When Data Duopoly offered half priced desserts at one restaurant to draw crowds away from a busy canteen, people took them up on that offer “and went to the restaurant where they ordered a starter, a glass of wine, a main meal”.
This results in higher revenue per head and a less crowded site. These kind of incentives also give people a reason to download the app, by ensuring that users really “get something in return for their data”.
2020 was a big year for Data Duopoly. Even as its co-founders dealt with the shock of remote working, they were seeing more interest in their platform than ever before. The small team signed on new clients and worked double shifts on new pandemic features, like the “COVID reporter”, which allows attendees to report symptoms in the days after they visit a site.
The Cornish start up is seeing particularly high demand in its home-region, where the local economy has been hit hard by tourism bans. The Eden Project, which saw over 1 million visitors in 2019, uses their technology. At the same time, Falmouth University is currently working with Data Duopoly to deploy their platform on campus.
Ethunandan is anticipating another busy year for her company and a better year for UK venues in 2021: “People might be nervous, but they are itching to get back. When they have the information to make their own decisions people feel a lot more confident”.