Ashley Blake, CEO of Otium Leisure Real Estate and co-founder of the Leisure Property Forum, talked about the evolution and future trends in the leisure sector.
The leisure market is a constantly diversifying concept, Ashley Blake keenly asserted during his talk on the trends growing in prominence in the leisure retail market. As leisure continues to be the buzzword for many centres, with some going as far as to open up extensions devoted to leisure, it is fast becoming obvious, Blake says, that this is shifting away from dining brands and towards experiential offers.
Leisure concepts popular overseas have seen a surge in recent years, he noted, with the explosion of trampoline parks and dessert parlours. The number of trampoline operators has grown rapidly from around 10-20 just a few years ago to over 200 locations across the UK. While the media have thrown doubt on the experiential offering, Blake reiterated that this is a marginal concern and was born from an initial lack of adequate training. It has since been remedied by the introduction of new guidelines to make sure all the necessary safety precautions.
Blake also championed the changing face of bars, moving towards offering premium, well-regulated space. He cited the desire for luxury and a nationwide health-consciousness as factors causing people to switch from quantitative to qualitative experiences. He said: “As the likes of craft beer become more prominent and develop into a more diverse and interesting market, people are seeking out viable, well run, well maintained locations to experience these products.”
Competitive experiences, he said, have seen growth in retail-centric locations with people seeking familiar, affordable locations to try the latest trends. This spans the likes of mini golf to socialised gaming to table tennis.
A trend Blake said which has been settling down, is Health and Fitness, where: “the budget market is taking the lion’s share, offering good quality machines at a fraction of the price of their luxury counterparts.” He highlighted, however, that the higher-end market is still robust as the increase in price indicates a more premium offering to include swimming pools and spas.
He contrasted the growth in the leisure market to the cooling of the restaurant market saying the food and beverage industry is nearing its plateau, claiming too many restaurants offering the same thing and many brands choosing to rein in their plans for expansion.
On a more optimistic note, he gave his predictions on the future of the leisure market, saying that people will always be looking for new ways to socialise. This, he said, will lead to new concepts multiplying rapidly, such as Escape Rooms experiences and fitness-centric offers like Tough Mudder, and centres should look to house the trends they determine could be long lasting as soon as possible.
His presentation was followed by a Q&A, during which he remained optimistic that the impact of Brexit would be good for the leisure economy with people choosing ‘staycations’, and spending more money on experiences. Returning to the notion that consumers have reached “peak stuff” he asserted that now people are looking for small, escapist experiences in their stead.
Giulia Bunting, who joined the panel for the Q&A, said that it can take a long time for a planning system to catch up with growing trends, and the industry is working towards lifting the barrier of restrictive use classes by helping to educate local authorities to recognise the wider benefits of leisure operators. These closing words were backed by host Adam Shaw, who said that: “It’s not the strongest and fastest that survive, it’s the most adaptable.”