As I sat watching Terminator Salvation from my lock down in Battersea I couldn't help drawing a parallel to my own situation, hiding from an aggressive foe and yet dependent on a friendly micro-chipped machine for my survival. Finding salvation in my microwave popcorn I contemplated when the likelihood of being able to see a blockbuster on the big screen again this year might be and was surprised to read about Vue's aim to reopen their cinemas in July.
As much as I yearn to break free from the relative safety of my flat and socialise once more, much like being on an aircraft for any considerable time, the appeal of being in a closed auditorium with recycled air for any considerable time with others is somewhat limited. Do Vue's Management genuinely think there will be demand and that it will be economically viable to trade before a vaccine is produced and distributed, which it seems is unlikely until next year?
The issue of social distancing is clearly going to be an issue for the whole of the commercial leisure sector, restaurants and bars for some time to come and my own view is that opening any of these prior to the end of the year would be ambitious to say the least. This is not only because of the practicalities and economics involved but more so customer sentiment and personal responsibility.
So what's the solution?
It occurred to me a halfway house for the cinema industry could be to consider trialing 'drive to' cinemas where you can stay in safety of your car. Clearly these are not a new invention and our American friends have embraced these much more so than the UK for some years. Operators in the UK and particularly those on dedicated leisure parks could pick suitable locations to work in partnership with their Landlords to run these. There are a number of existing providers of large screens and sound systems (and portaloos) which could be hired as required, we could even explore sound projection into cars through Bluetooth or a logged in account with tickets via the account or previously purchased online. Consumer behaviours to social interaction (regardless of Government guidelines) are likely to change for some time, and the majority of large leisure parks have ample car parking, good accessibility and plenty of space, this could be a real opportunity particularly if, as I believe, cinemas will continue to lose out with many unexpected to open until next year.
The additional benefit could be that restaurateurs on those schemes could also see signs of life and re-open, perhaps with a limited menu and/or waiter service following social distancing guidelines, to people who can stay in the safety of their cars. Finally furloughed cinema staff could then undertake security and health and safety duties and with generation of revenues, both the cinema operators and restaurateurs might even be able to pay their rent.
We’re operating in stranger times, businesses need to survive and in doing so need to think creatively with both tenants and landlords working together to find a meaningful solution.