After two difficult years, the events sector has regained some momentum. Gabriele Censi, Director of GC Events, has relied on digitalization and innovative exhibitions to get through the pandemic. He reflects on the industry's challenges and opportunities for renewal.
Based in Muralto, near Locarno (TI), GC Events, a cultural events company, is among the enterprises that have been able to reinvent themselves in response to the pandemic. It has undergone an internal digital transformation and also offers immersive exhibitions, a fast-growing segment in the museum world. Projected rather than simply exhibited, the works of great masters such as Van Gogh are revealed in a spectacular show, combining images, sound, and technology. With eight permanent employees and up to 40 during peak periods, the company organizes about 70 events – exhibitions, concerts, and festivals – per year in Switzerland. Gabriele Censi, founder and CEO, explains the current challenges faced by the industry.
How do you see the event industry doing today?
Gabriele Censi: We are sensing a very strong desire, both from the public and the artists, to participate in events, especially concerts. This enthusiasm is generating almost an excess of both supply and demand. The most positive part of today's situation is that we are able to make long-term plans again, which we were unable to do during the past two years.
What impact does digitalization have on your company and the industry in general?
Censi: When it comes to business management, we have significantly evolved thanks to the use of video conferencing devices. Today, the planning phase of an event can be almost entirely computer-managed. Remote working has given us more independence, albeit with some impact on the team spirit, as brainstorming is probably more effective when people can interact in the same room. On the innovation side, we also tried to take advantage of immersive technologies to broaden our target audience, particularly the younger generation.
Which trends do you see as the most promising in the event industry?
Censi: We found that the public was looking for more immersive and interactive experiences. Immersive art, which involves the visitor and makes him play an active role, will certainly become more and more popular in the years to come. Virtual reality headsets will soon be integrated into the experience.
Is the events industry impacted by the labor shortage in sectors such as the hospitality industry?
Censi: As in other fields, many professionals were laid off due to the total shutdown of work activity during the pandemic. In some cases, this resulted in people changing jobs. Stagehands, who are essential to an event's organization and who are responsible for setting up the stage and doing physical work, were frequently forced to change jobs. Today, it is very difficult to recruit people with these skills. So we have to call on temporary employment agencies, which often propose people from the construction or logistics sectors.
How have you established your company as an events industry leader in Ticino and the rest of Switzerland?
Censi: I started in the sector when I was a student. I noticed that Ticino lacked any real theater production. This, combined with my characteristic ambition, was the spark that spurred me to take action. Then I proceeded step by step, by progressively organizing larger and larger events, first in Ticino, then throughout Switzerland. Today, GC Events organizes about 70% of its events outside Ticino.
What are some of your greatest successes?
Censi: The first one was probably the Ennio Morricone concert in Locarno, in 2018. We had 200 musicians on stage and 5,000 spectators sitting in the Piazza Grande. I would also include the Banksy exhibition in Basel in 2021, which had 100,000 visitors, and the immersive Van Gogh exhibition in Lausanne, which had 60,000 visits. We were also the first to bring the Italian band Måneskin – who set the stage on fire at this year's Montreux Jazz Festival – to Switzerland in 2019.
You organize events throughout Switzerland. Are there regional specificities?
Censi: The main difference is in advance ticket purchasing. In Ticino, almost half the tickets are sold in advance and the rest on the day of the event. In the German and French-speaking parts of Switzerland, 90% of tickets are bought in advance and only 10% directly at the box office. Another difference is that labor costs are higher in the German and French-speaking parts of Switzerland. This difference is reflected in the ticket prices.
What advice do you have for an entrepreneur who wants to start an events business?
Censi: My first advice would be that you always plan an additional budget to cover unforeseen expenses. This can determine the success or failure of an event. If a young entrepreneur has no first-hand experience, I would recommend that they embark on the venture with a co-founder so that they can benefit from external advice that will challenge them. Finally, I would suggest starting with small events and evolving as they go along, the idea being to avoid an overly ambitious project that could overwhelm an inexperienced organizer.
Gabriele Censi graduated from the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) with a degree in communication and economics. He launched his career by creating GC Events at the age of 25, just after finishing his studies. Today, aged 36, he and his company are one of the key players in the field in Switzerland.
Last modification 07.09.2022