Outdoor Events in the Post-COVID-19 World

As the world begins to re-emerge from COVID-19 quarantine, we see a resurgence in demand for shared, in-person experiences that follow strict health and safety protocols. Both the Pop-up and Touring Outdoor Event sectors offer opportunities for innovation to meet the needs of the “new normal” era.

The way forward begins with accepting and leaning into that new reality. As the world reopens, maintaining health and safety for all guests will be top priority. But that won’t diminish the need to serve people what they crave: time with others, whether that’s the guests they go out with, or the performers they come to see. In-person experiences can provide a regenerative break from lockdown-induced “screen-burnout” and physical isolation. 

Outdoor events in particular are poised for a strong comeback–given the CDC’s latest guidelines indicating that outdoor air circulation mitigates virus transmission–and are thus  particularly ripe for reinvention.

There are many possibilities, but let’s look at just one example. Imagine a fresh, traveling take on the (mostly extinct) drive-in movie experience. 

Is there consumer appetite for a drive-in revival in a fixed, year round location? That’s uncertain. But the appeal of a traveling show that comes to town during certain times of year is hard to question, with the accompanying aura it brings of a special, communal, limited time offering. Call it the Drive-In Spectacular

Thinkwell Group Drive In Movie Outdoor Event

Imagine harnessing the safety of people gathering together in their cars, with the retro nostalgia of drive-ins of old. Take it further and add a dedicated app for ordering gourmet food-truck meals delivered to your spot by drone or P.P.E.-wearing car hops. Pipe state-of-the-art sound via mobile devices directly into car sound systems. Most importantly, expand the canvas beyond just movies to encompass music concerts, theatrical productions, dance performances, and more. Create “safe space” assigned parking spots, where each group of guests or family could put out beach chairs or stand and tailgate around their car, while maintaining a safe distance from their fellow guests in adjacent, marked off berths.

Leverage the live element and liberate actors and performers to circulate in between the cars at a safe distance, adding more  levels of immersive interaction beyond the traditional (and static) stage/audience relationship. Populate the area with multiple massive screens to ensure optimal sight lines for the movie or show taking place. Brand the festival and create an exclusive fan-event atmosphere. 

Live shows during the day, movies at night, make it an experiential festival that refreshes and renews, but this time all from the safety of a mobile protective pod you already own: your car. 

That’s just one of countless ideas for the outdoor event space. Here’s another: how about utilizing the latest lidar scanning and auto-calibrating projector technology to bring mapping shows to your favorite local landmarks–or even into your neighborhood? Ticketed admission to an experience that would display breathtaking visual and audio content–always mapped around a different location–making every performance unique and highly shareable. 

Specially designed media could allow local artists to contribute, or even kids in the audience who submit work in advance, adding to the memorable custom feel of the show. Come away with your own digitally unlocked video recording of the experience as keepsake, or an accompanying AR app that lets you take a portion of the show you saw and overlay it into your own home environment. 

Indoor Social Distance Escape Quest Concept

Shifting our lens from the outdoor to the indoor pop-up realm, we can see another unique set of opportunities in the post-quarantine era. Locking people up in confined spaces doesn’t sound that appealing or safe right now. Why not evolve the traditional escape room into an ‘escape adventure’ or ‘escape quest’?

Exploit disused mall or other retail space to create a multi-room, pulsed experience where self-selected groups move through multiple spaces. They’ll solve contact-free riddles, games, and puzzles and try to spot “I Spy”-style clues in the designed spaces around them. Audio-visual prompts texture the guest journey and keep them on their toes. Remove the crammed together, let’s-touch-everything aspect and open the experience up to become more of an on-the-move challenge. Play to the need for masks indoors and weave it into the narrative — perhaps guests are moving through an archeological site where nothing can be disturbed, or part of a medical survey team investigating a biological weapons facility leak. 

When we look at all these opportunities for re-envisioning what we do, one thing is clear. Continuous innovation is going to be required if we want to survive and thrive on the uncertain but hopeful road ahead.