The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain has reported that “business has been strong” for the truncated 2021 season, with Showmen rapidly adapting to new trends and overcoming organisational hurdles while safely bringing back all the fun of the fair.
With more than 1,560 fairs taking place across the UK between 12 April and 11 November, 2021 proved a marked improvement on the previous year for Showmen, with the community typically undaunted in adapting to new trends.
Though the event tally is still only a percentage of business done pre-Covid, major fairs such as Hull, Oxford St Giles, Stratford Mop and Yarm Fair enjoyed a successful return, with the Showmen’s Guild stating “business is buoyant.”
“Showmen countrywide report that business has been strong at most if not all the public fairs they have organised or attended this season, since it’s hesitant and later-than-usual start on 12 April,” said Guild president Philip Paris.
“A returning customer base was swelled by those who initially had fewer entertainment options and who discovered the value and excitement of the offer, in the fresh air.”
“The enhanced customer care, embracing the continuing Covid mitigations that many Showmen opted to retain as best practice throughout the season, has found favour with the public, including the more cautious among them.”
Controlled-capacity crowds flocked back to fairs such as Salisbury Pleasure Fair, Sherborne’s Pack Monday and Pembroke Charter Fair, and though traditional dates such as many civic-run Bonfire and Firework events and the heritage Nottingham Goose Fair did not take place, Showmen showed their ingenuity in making up for lost opportunity.
“Halloween Fairs have been an inventive success for the Showmen across the country, with increasing investment in theming for the spooky celebration that spans the schools half term. They have become an important segment of the ‘backend’ season, dovetailing with the established and – happily returning – Charter fairs.”
Understandably, the way the public approaches attending a fair has changed in the last 20 months, with Paris observing customers “acted with their heads, while they voted with their feet,” enthusiastically but sensibly embracing the return of live entertainment.
The “natural evolution” of cashless payment became a key feature of safe operation this year, while many Showmen witnessed a “continuing and growing trend” toward advanced booking, allowing organisers to guarantee an audience regardless of weather.
However, the Guild noted that Local Authority directors of Public Health still have ultimate control of approving fairs, unlike their brick and mortar counterparts, and are keeping “a cautious eye on the infection rate of possible new Covid variants.”
“This in turn makes Showmen and co-organisers nervous to plan too ambitiously themselves, as in other years; especially as the much trumpeted government-backed Event Cancellation Insurance is proving both very expensive and not applicable for many organisers’ events; a fact reiterated by the wider events industry.”
“Set against this, the Showmen, as adaptable as ever, are varying their offering of attractions to suit the desired town centre and out of town formats and following the interest of the public.”
Though the Guild added that the current reduction in Corporate Fairs remains “concerning,” it is hoped this sector will resume next year, with the industry now looking ahead with optimism to a positive winter season, involving 35 major winter and Christmas events including Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.