Canceled concerts and festivals, sporting events and large social gatherings have left the world longing for opportunities for human connection and a sense of belonging. This universal want for interaction – along with the need to uphold health and safety standards – has forced even the largest spaces to reconsider how to serve a market that demands togetherness while also responsibly paring down.
For guests, visitors and residents, the need for outdoor places has not changed – but from wearing masks to avoiding crowds, the way we are allowed to navigate them is radically different and requires strategic realignment in order to be effective. This ‘pivot’ has become the newest step in an intricate social dance. Airport runways, like the Vilnius International Airport in Lithuania, have transformed into drive-in movie theaters while golf courses make way for family picnics and small gatherings. However, in pursuing sweeping changes, opportunities for sustainable revenue growth can be found through smaller-scale updates that don’t limit or sacrifice the function of an original space.
Recovering from this crisis is an opportunity to start afresh – to take inventory of property aesthetics, circulation, accessibility and functionality. What do current stand-alone spaces offer? How could they evolve? How do multiple spaces come together as part of a larger concept? A property audit not only looks at traditionally defined places, but also what it could be with some creativity and the acknowledgement of shifting social patterns.
Consider the annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, a globally renowned, open-air event that attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year. Spanning nearly 90-acres across seven waterfront locations, several health and safety protocols have been adopted while still delivering on a quality guest and vendor experience. EDSA’s design team provided logistical support that included the delineation of additional gateway entry points to streamline guest arrivals and departures, avoid cross traffic and reduce the pressure at entry gateways. This subtle change not only increased safety but helped drive foot traffic to new areas of the show and created hubs of activity that added show value. Other social distancing solutions consisted of additional viewing platforms, on-site signage and floor markings, social distance ambassadors and VIP passes for early access and private appointments.
With pent-up demand for public events, priorities must be given to how people are traveling from space to space. Self-parking, multiple entrances and staggered activity sessions are worthwhile pursuits that don’t add a great deal of expense. But in some cases, reconfiguring existing infrastructure for improved accessibility or small-scale updates can elevate the visitor experience. Could repurposing amenities increase revenue while promoting COVID-friendly gatherings? Are balconies, terraces, patios and pool decks being utilized to their full potential? Could natural dividers or heating/cooling elements prolong the lifeline of an outdoor space?
As health and safety recommendations evolve, thoughtful interactions can be found through more intimate experiences that mimic what it is like to be in a large, welcoming crowd. By looking at local market demands and developing flexible programming, larger gathering spaces can remain active and energized with solutions that are customized, scalable and cost-effective. For both short and long-term success, the key to achieving this nostalgic feeling is not thinking too big but harnessing the power of thinking small.