Despite the surge of panicked social media posts and a newfound appreciation for hand washing in early 2020, it’s fair to say plenty of Coloradans didn’t think much of anything at all about the coronavirus until public events began to be cancelled in early March. Event planners confidently (in some cases) rescheduled everything from intimate weddings to food festivals for the fall and not-so-confidently (in other cases) informed guests that gatherings were “postponed” until 2021.
Well, autumn has arrived, and those events are actually happening. We caught up with Jason Ornstein, president of Team Player Productions (TPP); the event planners just wrapped up Vail Craft Beer Classic in August and are currently preparing for the Wine Classic at Vail (which happens in just a few days, on September 18 and 19). We asked Ornstein about how he’s had to switch things up and what he thinks will happen going forward (spoiler: nobody knows, but things definitely aren’t going back to “normal”).
DiningOut: How did you develop the setup/flow for the Craft Beer and Wine classics? Did you work with anyone at the city?
Jason Ornstein: With limited attendance in a venue that can host three to four times the crowd size, flow is pretty easy to attain. The real challenge is educating our patrons on the new rules to having an outdoor beer and wine festival. Conveying the importance of wearing a mask while gathering your beer and wine samples is key to ensuring everyone’s safety and allowing us to move forward with a live event. Then, once you gather up your samples and find your space to taste, then it’s perfectly acceptable to remove your mask and enjoy. [ED: Masked guests are required to collect samples and then return to a socially-distanced common area before consuming them.] It was extremely encouraging to see how quickly people adapted and accepted these new rules. I believe people want some sense of normalcy and this is a way that we all can work together to achieve it. And at the end of the day, it’s still a great experience and people can have a great time!
DO: How has attendance (both of guests and of producers) been impacted overall from 2019?
JO: If you are following the state guidelines (which we do, and take very seriously), you can only have a maximum attendance of 175, regardless of the venue’s maximum capacity. That certainly can hamstring your revenue potential. It is up to the event producers to get creative on how they can work within those guidelines. We have made it work while still creating a great patron experience.
DO: How has profitability been impacted compared to 2019?
JO: With revenues down, expenses need to come down as well in order to have a profitable event. With only having the ability to sell 175 tickets, marketing dollars do not need to be as robust, as one example of paring down expenses.
DO: Have you changed your branding/advertising to get people through the doors?
JO: We have found the silver lining in this new COVID era…..limited attendance means no lines, no crowds. Everyone gets a VIP ticket experience. And it works!
DO: How do you foresee beer and wine festivals changing in the future?
JO: We really feel like we’ve been created a great model that works. Take advantage of Colorado’s beautiful weather, keep these festivals outside and limit attendance to ensure everyone has enough space to spread out and enjoy. It creates a more intimate and meaningful experience.
DO: What changes are you making now (or planning to make) to anticipate the above?
JO: It’s all about positive messaging.
DO: What’s the most impactful thing you’ve learned while creating these two events?
JO: People are willing to adapt and are accepting of change, if it creates a valued experience.
DO: What do you feel you’re lacking that would really assist you in putting these events on?
JO: Larger companies and corporations need to stop waiting for things to go back to normal and start to embrace the way events have adapted. I certainly hope I am wrong, but this pandemic may last well into 2021 and beyond. Might as well jump on the train now or you might be waiting around while others speed on by.