It’s always refreshing to catch up with Brian Learst, CEO of QuintEvents, to hear the latest trends and updates from the USA. We take time to pick his brain about Formula 1 hospitality.
Talking about QuintEvents’ hospitality, what is most important in your work today?
Great food and beverage, and a comfortable, hospitable atmosphere are the expectations of clients. Differentiators are the programming and access to the greats of the sports and other celebrities. In general, clients want to be entertained, in addition to great food, beer and comfort, and finding the right mix of all of these factors is the challenge for our team.
Tell us about the fun factor of your work.
For myself and most of our staff, we consider going to these events just as much fun as we do work! Everything is happening in real time and we are experiencing it with our guests. Everything we do is live and as planned as our experience is going into the event, it still has a factor that is completely in the moment. We do not know what pit crews will do on a paddock tour, what drivers will say in a Q&A, what teams will win the races and so on. We also add new inclusions to our package experiences every year, so there is never a “been there, done that” feeling for us or our guests.
We believe that in emerging Formula 1 markets like the US, more accessibility is needed to grow the sport, whereas in Europe, less might be better as the fan base is very well developed.
How do you keep your guests or clients happy, hospitality-wise?
Now that we have been in the industry, we have a good understanding of what people want to experience, but we continue to ask for their feedback year after year. We use that feedback to make changes to our hospitality that we may not have thought of, or remove things that weren’t important to our guests to replace with something more memorable. We push to maximise the space with what will make guests comfortable and keep them engaged throughout a long race weekend, as well as maximising their time with tons of entertainment and interactive options. With all of this, we make sure to give our guests time to mingle, relax and enjoy the race since to many it is a vacation as much as it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Is it hard to introduce innovation or creativity in your line of work?
It is much easier to stay innovative when you have a staff in place that is as diverse, energetic and creative as we do, so we never stop coming up with ways to improve our programs. We make sure that if something new comes up in the sport, we are embracing it through our package inclusions. Or if a venue is renovated or built, we are taking full advantage of what it now has to offer. We not only use customer feedback to come up inclusions in our growing programs, but we also have our hand in numerous worldwide events, which allow us to use other sports, industries and fan bases to ignite creativity in our work. It’s a never-ending cycle of fresh ideas, and we will continue to use them to the fullest.
What changes in the hospitality sector have you noticed during recent years?
The biggest change in the hospitality sector has been the interactive element. Hospitality was more focused on seating, food and beverage. Now, people realise that they can get that at home, so if they travel to an event, they want it to be an experience that doesn’t compare to your own living room or a 4k TV. That is why we focus so much of our time on guest experiences and exclusive access, because that is the component that most fans only dream of, and we’re happy to make it a reality. Meeting your favourite athlete, watching a Grammy-winning artist perform only feet from you, and having a Q&A with a panel of Hall of Famers are impossible to get at home, or in just a standard suite or lounge.
What are usually the main obstacles or problems when working with Formula 1?
The main obstacle with Formula 1 is the constantly-changing leader board and teams, making it tough to set expectations for fans of the race itself very far in advance. Drivers are constantly getting added or removed from teams to keep them in the competition and one mistake can change the leader board in the middle of a series. This means that what fans want to see at the beginning of the season may change drastically by the final races of the season. This “problem” is also what makes the sport so exciting and keeps our fans and staff on their toes. It also has benefitted our guests. For example, a backup driver that committed to a meet and greet early in the year, was a winning driver by the end of the season, so our guests were given the opportunity to meet them in the middle of the highlight of their racing career!
Do you maybe see what Formula 1 could learn from other sports in terms of hospitality?
The age old question for Formula 1 is one of accessibility of the sport’s leadership and drivers to the fans. If you limit accessibility, there is more mystique. If you give more accessibility, the mystique is diminished, but you can expand the loyal fan base. We believe that in emerging Formula 1 markets like the US, more accessibility is needed to grow the sport, whereas in Europe, less might be better as the fan base is very well developed.