The new faddism

30 March 2004 by
The new faddism

During the past 20 years, there have been a few leisure trends that have endured, and a few that have fluttered away very quickly indeed.

Foreign cuisine, boutique hotels and branded coffee shops are trends that have blossomed and now look like they are here to stay, whereas square burgers and roller discos died quietly in their sleep.

Predicting trends in the leisure market is difficult. Consumer tastes change quickly and what seems fashionable one moment can seem hopelessly outdated the next. Think, for example, of the juice bar.

"In the mid-1990s, they were being touted as a healthy alternative to coffee and experts predicted massive growth. But today, there are few stand-alone examples," says Emma Davis, director of Berkeley Simmons Davis (BSD). A similar fate has befallen soup bars. Although some remain, the heat has gone from the sector - if not the soup.

Commentators who are prepared to predict the trends that will shape the leisure sector during the next decade often start by looking at the recent past for inspiration.

Trevor Watson, special projects director at Davis Coffer Lyons, says one of the most enduring patterns in the licensed sector during the past decade has been feminisation. He lists the prevalence of high street pub brands Pitcher & Piano, All Bar One and Slug & Lettuce as evidence.

"These brands have opened up the high street bar to women and the market still hasn't reached saturation," he claims.

Watson is reluctant to be drawn on what, exactly, this will mean for the licensed sector in the next decade. However, if the girl-friendly market truly has further to go, it may be that in future we will see even more emphasis on fit-outs and branding that appeal to women.

"Dining environments such as Carluccio's and La Tasca, which are female led, will continue to grow," predicts Watson.

Other innovations in the restaurant sector are likely to involve the blurring of the line between sit-down restaurants and take-away delicatessens, meaning the sale of pre-prepared restaurant-quality food could become commonplace. Ciao Baby in Basingstoke and Del Villaggio in Birmingham's Bullring are examples of operators in what Watson calls the "home meal replacement" sector.

Apparently running against the fad for health-conscious foods, BSD's Davis sees "gourmet burger" brands as the next big thing in family restaurants. "Several new operators are coming into the market to compete with the likes of Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Fine Burger Co," she says.

Fending off the competition At a broader level, research suggests that savvy leisure operators will need to focus on turning their venues into true "destinations" if they are to fend off the competition. That's the finding of Professor Chris Voss and PY Gerbeau of the London Business School, who have published a research paper on the future of leisure. Gerbeau is a former director of Disneyland Paris and CEO of the New Millennium Experience Company, which ran attractions at the Millennium Dome. He now runs X-Leisure, the operator of X-Scape family entertainment venues.

The research claims that in order to increase profits, managers of leisure outlets need to focus on "experience-based branding" and concentrate on creating a "theatrical" feel. If managers follow their advice, footfall can increase by up to 30%, according to the authors.

"The research is applicable to all kinds of destinations from shops and restaurants to stadiums and theme parks. Very few companies have taken this approach - and they will miss out if they do not change their ways," says Gerbeau.

Cinemas - which have enjoyed a recent boom - are also looking for ways to innovate. An increasingly niche-driven approach is the order of the day, as operators look to separate themselves from the middle-of-the-road multiplexes. One way this is occurring is at the premium end, with the rise of licensed cinemas that serve alcoholic drinks at your seat.

Innovation at the value end is also being seen, most notably from easyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou and his high-volume, low-margin easyCinema brand. The first outlet opened in Milton Keynes last year. However, a lukewarm response from Hollywood studios means the business model is yet to be proven.

Blossoming hotels In the hotel sector, budget, boutique, minimalist and "style" hotels have blossomed in recent years. So what's next?

According to John Chalker, design director at hotel interiors specialist TFL International, boutique styles will permeate design in mainstream hotel chains, but starker minimalist designs will fall away.

"I see the larger groups trying to be more 'boutique' in style," he says. "Whereas very trendy, minimalist hotels seem to want to add dressing tables and pictures to cosy things up and make them more comfortable."

So far the new trends in the leisure sector are aimed mainly at adult consumers. But the leisure market for children is also expanding in a new direction. Several operators are looking to grow nationally the concept of activity centres. Typically based in units of between 10,000 and 20,000 sq ft, these centres provide indoor and outdoor play equipment, catering facilities, health and fitness equipment and function rooms for parties. Operators include Kidsports, Snakes & Ladders, Hannah Bananas and Topsy Turvy World.

Peter Spelman, partner in charge of retail and leisure at property consultant Vail Williams, says the driver is simply a gap in the market for leisure activities in which families with children can take part together.

He says: "Activity centre operators so far are mainly local, but they are looking to expand nationally. I think we will see organic growth from these operators, and a dozen or so will dominate the market in five years' time."

Timeline
The past, present and future if leisure formats

AD20 Britain's most informative public drinking outlets - known as tabernae - established by the romans.
1189 Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, which claims to be the oldest surviving pub in England, begins trading in Nottingham.
1765 In Paris, Monsieur Boulanger starts selling soups off a menu - supposedly inventing a restaurant.
1974 Fast food arrives in Britain as the UK's first MacDonalds restaurant opens in Woolwich, south London.
1986 Pitcher & Piano's first outlet opens in Luton, ushering in a era of female friendly high street bars
1992 Café Lazeez opens its first branch in south Kensington, becoming a benchmark for a new breed of modern Indian restaurants.
1994 Both Malmaison and Hotel du Vin open their first outlets, setting the template for boutique hotels.
1998 Starbucks opens its first UK outlets. The era of branded high street coffee begins.
2003 Stelios Haji-laonnou launches easyCinema - where seats cost as little as 20p each and you can bring your own popcorn.
2050 The first hotel could open on the moon, according to Has-Jurgen Rombaut of the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture, who has already designed it.
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