Theatres trump restaurants and pubs in recession, says market research

Natalie Woolman
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British theatre continues to buck the recession, according to a new report revealing the resilience of the performing arts sector compared with restaurants, pubs and clubs.

Research published by market analysis company Mintel grouped survey respondents according to their leisure activities. Of those who go to the pub, 43% said they had already cut spending, compared with only 21% of theatre audiences. In addition, 5% of theatre-goers said they intended to go more, compared to just 1% of pub-goers.

According to the report, which covers the period from late 2008 to late 2010, eating out and clubbing have also been affected – 38% of people who eat out said they had cut down, as had 35% of clubbers.

The report states: “The performing arts benefit from the same prevailing trends as cinema, in that they are perceived as a way of escaping from the tyranny of value, cutting back and saving. As long as they continue to offer good perceived value for money, there is no reason why they cannot continue to trade successfully throughout difficult economic times while other sectors struggle.”

The findings are supported by recent claims by West End productions Wicked and The Lion King that they broke West End box office records in 2010 – for the highest single-week gross and highest annual box office respectively.

The report’s author Michael Oliver said the “resilience” of the sector stood out in the research.

He said: “Eating out is a very popular activity, as is going to the pub, but they are obviously big areas of spend as well. In a recession people tend to look at discretionary areas that they can cut back. However, one of our trends we identified in 2010 was that of escapism.

“The principle behind that is that, although on a day to day basis people are having to be much more careful and scrimp and save, and buy value items instead of the premium items and so on, they are treating themselves every now and then to things like trips to the cinema, trips to music concerts and theatre visits, and this has really helped. If you look at all three of those areas, which we have done over the last year, they have all seen strong growth in admissions.”

As well as benefiting from a consumer trend for occasional affordable treats, the report also states that the performing arts sector has been boosted by people holidaying at home on “staycations” and an influx of foreign tourists encouraged to come to the UK by the weakness of the pound.

However, the study warns that widespread public sector job cuts following the coalition government’s Comprehensive Spending Review and an increase in the numbers taking foreign holidays may cause the rate of growth to slow in future.

The Society of London Theatre is expected to publish overall West End box office figures for 2010 at the end of this month. In 2009, box office takings in London’s Theatreland broke the £500 million mark for the first time.

For more on the Mintel report see this week’s print edition of The Stage

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster