RHC Blog: Consumer Experience - Less ‘things’ more ‘do’

Less ‘things’ more ‘do’ – consumers are spending more on experiences
Lorne Scott - RHASS Commercial Director

We've seen dramatic changes in consumer behaviour over the past year, with spending on entertainment and experiences in the UK up 12.5%. As experienced hosts with over 50 years in the industry, RHC is the venue of choice for 220 events and one million visitors annually.

Why have we stopped buying ‘stuff’?

I was listening to Costing the Earth on BBC Radio 4 recently, and I was interested to hear what Paul Lockstone from Barclaycard had to say. He was talking about the growth of the experience economy and suggesting that as consumers we’re spending less on ‘stuff’ and putting our money towards experiences and memories. He noted that in the past year, spending on entertainment has increased by 12.5% - a huge change that reflects a cultural shift. As consumers, we are placing higher value on experiences that we can share with friends and family, particularly on social media.

So, what’s changed? Why aren’t we purchasing material goods at the previous rate? Lockstone mentioned comments made by IKEA’s Steve Howard that as western consumers, we may have reached ‘peak stuff’ – many of us are simply fed up of the number of things we own, and are finding that they don’t fulfill us the way they used to. Another theory is that millennials, who tend to have less cash, are looking for more life-enhancing ways of spending their money; to have an exhilarating, unique experience (and to be seen doing it) is much more important to millennials than say, a designer handbag or a shiny new car.

How can we prepare for industry expansion?

Those of us who already work in the events industry – event operators and hosts alike – will be aware of the increased appetite for experiential events. I’ve recently taken up the role of commercial director at the Royal Highland Centre (RHC), which is Scotland’s largest indoor and outdoor venue.  Last year the RHC, which has a large, modern exhibition space, beautiful 110-actre parkland, track area, and main arena delivered over 220 events and welcomed one million visitors. It’s in a great location, very close to Edinburgh Airport and the motorway, with strong links to both Edinburgh and Glasgow. But although the Centre is best known for its traditional Royal Highland Show, which drew in a 190,000-strong crowd last June, we’re noticing an increased demand for the use of our facilities to host a wide variety of weird and wonderful events. This year, we’ll host a plethora of performances, conventions and sporting shows organized by DMCs and operators. We’ll be showcasing a classic motoring festival, highly anticipated boxing match, a visually stunning spectacular, and a muddy obstacle course as well as a healthy calendar of other upcoming events. The RHC’s versatility makes it the venue of choice for a whole host of dynamic experiences.

But with outlook good for the future, and customers willing to shell out more cash than in previous years, we do need to exercise caution. Hosts and venue operators will need to ensure that they are prepared to face increased demand, and inevitably, increased competition. With more venues to choose from (Eventbright puts the current figure at 10,000), how do we ensure that we keep competitive, and, most importantly, help our clients deliver these fantastic events with commercial success? We need to make sure we’re considering things like whether we’re offering services that are versatile and responsive. Can we provide the technological tools necessary to keep up with innovations in the industry? Can we rise to challenges such as the importance of increased security? Can we deliver tailored packages that truly meet the specific requirements of our clients and their visitors? As Richard Catton, media manager at Harrogate Convention Centre said in Conference News this month, “Any venue nowadays who can’t offer flexibility within its packages is operating in a bygone era.”

What changes have the RHC implemented?

At the RHC, we’ve recently responded to patterns in client feedback by investing £2.5 million into infrastructure that helps ensure that our facilities continue to be at the cutting edge. This investment also covers high speed Wi-Fi, particularly significant given the increase in visitors wanting to share their real-time experiences across social media, which can boost the profile of an event significantly. But I feel that our greatest strength lies in our knowledge of the industry. In a sea of potential hosts, DMCs will feel reassured by those who can demonstrate that they have the insight and reliability necessary to pull off the event of their dreams without a hitch.