UK Video Interview: Guy Dunstan, The NEC Group

Pollstar sat down with Guy Dunstan, general manager of both Genting Arena and Arena Birmingham, to talk about his work – and a little bit of his life too.

Dunstan has been working in live entertainment for more than 20 years. During that time he’s observed a dramatic change of pace.

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“Everything is immediate now. I could walk into the office first thing on a Monday morning and a show could confirm and be on sale by the end of that day. It’s that quick in terms of the way that we interact with our customers, the way that we move things forward and confirm shows.“

The ability to push events out to the public via social media has contributed to a quicker pace as well. As did “the focus on data and having that ability to be able to make sure that we are able to interact with our audiences on a day-to-day basis, and to know that one customer is interested in an artist, and another customer will be interested in something completely different.”

Technology allowed venue operators “to have a conversation with those two different customers in a different tone of language, but also to make sure it’s relevant to them as well.”

Dunstan indentified the focus on the customer’s experience as “the biggest single change in all my 20 years.”

And he thinks that shift is justified: “You only have to look at the way ticket prices have grown year-on-year. So it is so important for us that we do make sure customers have a quality experience when they come into our arenas.”

He emphasized how important it was not to lose sight of the quality of service to customers amidst all the talk around safety and security, and explained that the safety standards at Birmingham Arena and Genting Arena were already up to speed even before the recent terrorist attacks all over Europe. “I think the key focus for all venues, and for us particularly, was to make sure that customers are reassured when they come into our venues.

The security measures are in place, but we want to make sure that the safety and security elements are visible and people recognize that when they’re coming into the venue.“

He reaffirmed the somewhat tragic development many other professionals in live entertainment have been observing as well: that people actually want to be thoroughly checked at the gates.

“We get so many emails now, thanking us for the level of checks, the level of security when they’re coming into the venue.”

Dunstan agreed that more sharing of best practices among venues when it comes to security is needed across the world. “There are areas where we compete, obviously to get shows. But there are areas where collaboration is a really important thing for us all as venue operators to make sure that all of our venues are as safe and secure as possible.“

As a former chairman of the National Arenas Association, Dunstan has always been advocating the sharing of best practices. He revealed that the NAA launched a security working group, where the security managers of venues have a network to do exactly that.

Other challenges include maintaining an attractive program and ticket prices: “Not being in control of the ticket price is always a concern of mine, because the higher the ticket price goes, people will have to make the decision as to whether they’re going to shows or not.

“Also, it’s not just whether they come to that one show – it might be their favorite artist. But it might stop them from going to see another artist, because they spent so much money on going to that one particular show,“ he explained.

Dunstan also revealed his favorite venues outside the NEC Group, and said that “there are bits I take away from each venue I go to. I am able then to look at how we can incorporate some of the best things I’ve seen around the world into the way we design our facilities in the future. So, wherever I go, I’ve always got my eyes open.”