A blue light at the end of the tunnel
Nick Lomax, business development manager, Westminster College, Cambridge, shares how the industry can build customer confidence in venues and welcome them back following Covid-19.
A few weeks back Westminster College was privileged to take part in the #makeitblue campaign, that saw the outside of the College flooded in blue light as a mark of respect and thanks for the work of our NHS staff. It is a free initiative delivered by our local event suppliers giving up their own time and has featured a number of buildings throughout the Cambridgeshire region.
It was the first event of any kind that we had been able to host at the College since the start of the lockdown, and it felt both strange and reassuringly familiar to start to see suppliers arriving at the College car park (albeit at a safe social distance) to start the set up for the lighting and projection.
When you work at an academic venue, you are working in an atmosphere of almost constant buzz, from the student population, the community that works at the College and the almost daily hosting of external events - whether day meetings, banqueting events or bed and breakfast business.
The lockdown silenced this, and the building has sat stoically quiet during the pandemic, surrounded by an equally muted Cambridge city centre, and it was great to see a tiny amount of 'buzz' return, even if it was only for a few hours.
Our socially distanced conversations circulated around the unknown. For example, ‘when events can get going again?’ and ‘what will be the customer confidence levels when we do?’, are things that everyone in the hospitality sector has been wondering.
However, one thing that became clear from all the discussion of uncertainty was that whilst it will not be 'business as usual' for a long time to come, we will need to make various adaptations to our venues, our processes and our products. We are all reliant on each other more than ever to get our industry marching again.
Our hospitality industry flourishes by having face-to-face contact at the heart of it, whether this is between our teams or our customers. We had this key ingredient ripped away from us overnight and the impending weeks of lockdown have unfortunately only served to reinforce uncertainty and nervousness around activities that only a few months ago we all took for granted.
Over the coming weeks and months all levels of the industry, starting with our own teams will play a key part in the small steps that we must take to build customer confidence in our venues, and the safety and reassurances that we can provide to them and their teams as we prepare to be able to welcome them back.
We also need to work with our suppliers closer than ever to work on building new leads or opportunities and embrace any adaptations to technology or processes to continue that march back to the 'new norm'.
As the darkness of the evening started to take hold and the blue light started to illuminate the building, it was great to see the Westminster College building at the heart of an event again, standing proud in Cambridge.
It really was a blue light at the end of an uncertain tunnel that showed that there is a way back, with small steps at first, but there is way back for our fantastic, vibrant industry.