Brussels, (Brussels Morning)- Exactly six months after the cultural sector closed down in Brussels, visitors are only slowly finding their way back to the halls. The way people book tickets has also changed. Here and there it sounds that older visitors also seem to find their way to the halls less. “We have lost Fleming from the Rand.”
Both cultural visits and voluntary work in the cultural sector are only slowly getting back on track. Occasional visitors in particular no longer seem to have the habit of booking tickets. This is the opinion of Publiq vzw, a specialist in culture communication, which launched a campaign at the beginning of May on behalf of the Flemish government and the culture sector to attract visitors to the halls again, says BRUZZ.
There are no exact figures for the time being, but Bart Temmerman, general manager of Publiq vzw, is convinced that the cultural sector has not yet returned to the level it was before the crisis. The ‘Experience Again More’ campaign aims to help visitors remember what it was like to go to the theatre, film or concert or to volunteer in the cultural sector. “Full halls are great for the atmosphere, both for loyal fans and new people. It is the last ticket that ensures that a theatre meets budgets.”
According to him, it is mainly the elderly who now buy fewer culture tickets. “We are at a tipping point,” Temmerman says, referring to the ageing population. “A large segment of the population will withdraw from cultural participation. Only the corona crisis has accelerated that process.”
Nadia Verbeeck also sees this tendency at the KVS. “The Fleming from the Rand does not immediately return to the city,” observes Verbeeck. “This drives us even more – after creating a diverse program – to focus even more on attracting a diverse audience. We are well on our way, but confidence with the new target groups must grow. Flemish crowd pullers on stage are easy, but the KVS wants to do more.”
The KVS has seen the public slowly return since Christmas, but the theatre is not yet at the level before the first lockdown. At the same time, the performances with big names draw full houses without difficulty. “Someone like choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui sold out quickly. It’s easy to program only big names, but what we want to do at the KVS is to grow young careers. Preferably with artists who represent Brussels.”
In the past six months, the KVS has therefore deliberately focused on attracting new target groups with its communication. “The work only begins with the classic communication strategy,” says Verbeeck. “We have always kept working to fill the room, and over the past six months we have succeeded in filling the room for at least half or more,” says Verbeeck.
Visitors are less predictable
Also in the Botanique concert hall, the big names sell out quickly – like at the pre-crisis level – and the lesser-known names sell less than they would have done before the crisis. Yet it is not easy to make the comparison, warns spokesman Kris Mouchaers. “We now have many more concerts than usual because a lot of bands are now being booked. If we compare the visitor figures with those of three years ago, then we will not learn anything from it for that reason.”
He does confirm that there is a hesitation on the part of the visitor. “In the past, people bought their tickets as soon as a concert was announced, today they wait two or three weeks before it starts.” There are also more no shows than before: people who do buy a ticket but still don’t show up. “Concerts have often been postponed, even this week we had to reschedule a concert due to illness of the band members. Those are not nice emails to send.”
Sometimes visitors have forgotten the new date, or the date no longer fits. Not everyone accepts the proposal to exchange a postponed concert for a gift voucher. “As a result, the hall is sometimes a bit emptier,” says Mouchaers. According to Mouchaers, the oversupply also plays a role: countless concerts and festivals are planned this summer. At the same time, the increased prices for energy, among other things, mean that people who used to use it a few times bought a ticket for a concert per month, now only do that once a month.
It sounds about the same at Bozar, where the big names also sell out easily. “Mariza and Damon Albarn find their audience as well as before. It is especially the concerts by emerging artists, young talent or more experimental in nature, that have more difficulty reaching a wide audience. This requires extra communication efforts,” says Leen Daems, spokesperson for Bozar.
At Bozar, too, people decide later than before the crisis. “In the past, subscription sales were very important, but this concept – where you sometimes reserve your tickets a year in advance – is currently less in tune with the times,” it sounds. “People prefer to choose the week or even the day itself what they are going to do. With the many postponed and cancelled events, a kind of cold feet has still arisen.”
In summary, it has become more difficult for concert and theatre halls to predict when visitors will arrive. “You can’t always assume that there are a lot of presales,” says Eva Decaesstecker of the Kaaitheater. “The well-known performances will be fine, think of ‘Cascade’ by Meg Stuart, ‘Flemish Primitives’ by Chokri Ben Chikha & Action Zoo Humain. In addition, we are increasingly attracting a young audience from Brussels.”