The Youth Lab



With COVID-19 regulations lifted almost completely worldwide and a general mindset of ready to get out and live life to the fullest, people, young and old, have been busy making plans, heading to gigs, festivals, sporting events and holidays, many two-plus years in the making. The past two weeks, in particular, have seen a surge in socialising and holidaying, with businesses, event organisers and travel partners to name a few, faced with a sudden uptake in numbers. Not everyone has been ready for it. Stories of surging crowds, fan disappointment and crowd chaos as a result of a lack of preparedness have filled our newstreams, near and far. This week for 52INSIGHTS, we’re looking at what went wrong and why managing customer expectations (and their safety) is core to basic brand engagement.


Across Europe and the UK, airports are all looking a bit like a ‘sh*t-show’, with daily queue mayhem due to huge understaffing of security and ground-staff while demand for travel surgees. Dublin Airport, Ireland made headlines around the world as it drastically failed people passing through the airport, ending up with over 1400 people missing flights. “I’m frustrated, I’m angry, I’m scared. People are aggressive, frustrated, exhausted. Everybody was really angry”, a statement from one young traveller, Sona Jimova, to Irish media RTE as she was left stranded trying to travel home to Slovakia after visiting Ireland. The Airport Authority claimed it was not prepared for the volume of people, (despite previous chaotic scenes back in March that could have been an indicator of what was to come). This is not an isolated event. German travel operator TUI underestimated everyone’s desire to get out and overbooked holidays, resulting in thousands of last-minute holiday cancellations the group was unable to fulfil. Airlines like Iberia, Easyjet, British Airways, KLM, and more are all cancelling flights and needing to solve compensation for the thousands of disappointed holiday-goers. In the US, Delta and American Airlines are cancelling flights. Cruises and car-rentals were impacted as well.

Despite rising inflation, it appears travel (and foreign summer holiday in particular) is something we aren’t prepared to cut back on - according to the European Travel Commission, 69% of young Europeans are eager to travel around Europe this summer. In the US, summer vacation spend is up 91% over pre-COVID levels. For their part, consumers might be prepared to forgive authorities for their mishaps, given the broad uncertainty around post-pandemic consumer behaviour, rocketed further by wars, the energy crisis and surging prices, but it's proven all the more challenging when they’ve been promised experiences that didn’t materialise, and were themselves blamed for the under-delivery of such promises, (yes, you read right - read on …)


Hey @Primavera_Sound do you have any idea how depressing it is to have waited for two years to come to your festival, spending the best part of £2000 pounds on tickets/accommodation/flights & seeing the absolute mess you've made of the organisation for this first weekend? via Twitter

The broad absence of mega-festival activation in 2020 and 20221, meant a 2022 primed festival audience, ready to kick off the summer with a music festival. Primavera Sound Festival, hosted on the beach in Barcelona in June, has been a firm favourite around Europe for a long time, with a widely-anticipated line-up this year. In reality, attendees were left disappointed and extremely thirsty with limited access to water and long lines at the bars for the inaugural opening weekend. The issues at the festival were again described as being due to understaffing and overselling of tickets, with a vast underestimating the volume of people showing up (even though the festival was already sold out back in June 2021). Twitter was quick to compare the festival to mega-fail Fyre Festival.

The problems needed immediate action to secure simple safety, like avoiding dehydration in Barcelona’s heat. However, festival-goers weren’t too impressed by Primavera’s actions or apology statement to resolve the frustrating situation - “We read on the afternoon of day two that, as a response to the concerns of attendees, Primavera doubled the amount of drinking fountains in the venue - from three to six For 100,000 people. We just started laughing,” one attendee reported to us from our Love Network.


Continuing this trend of underestimating crowds and failing paying customers, the UEFA Champions League game on May 28th between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Paris ended with French police resorting to tear gas to manage crowds. The majority of fans, (including children), pumped for the big final, arrived hours in advance to access the stadium, but bad entry planning meant Liverpool supporters were either denied or delayed in their entry. The dramatic and terrifying scenes left fans disappointed and terrified. According to UEFA and two French Ministers, the problem was due to thousands of fake tickets being purchased, but in reality this was only part of the problem, (and a much smaller problem than the authorities indicated). Ticket-holders were quick to say this wasn’t true, including young Scottish Player Andrew Roberston saying “one of my mates got told it was a fake which I assure you it wasn’t. It was a shambles really.” Liverpool FC are now calling for an investigation.


“If overambition does lead to chaos, don’t dismiss the right of customers to be both gutted and furious. Don’t imply that we should just suck it up – because nothing will serve as a more effective guarantee that we won’t…One lesson should already be clear: in 2022, people are primed to spot nonsense, and they have long had the smartphones to push back against it.” Laura Slattery via The Irish Times

Navigating low-covid living is proving a weird, and unexpectedly frustrating trip, for many of us hungry to get out and have fun en masse. Airlines have said there hasn’t been enough time to prepare for the surge since rules changed so quickly, but more galling are pointing the finger at travellers for arriving too early at airports (note: only because they are trying to ensure they don’t miss their flights due to under-staffed airports). Event organisers are citing multiple reasons from “overestimation of numbers showing up” to “the late arrival of fans” to “security issues” - the common theme? The customer is to blame, not us. Such behaviour is not just disappointing to the many people who have been looking forward to living life again and having fun, but it’s downright infuriating, particularly when personal safety is in jeopardy. Net net: brand and businesses are losing trust, seeing their reputation head south, and setting themselves up for even more scrutiny by consumers on the defence.

But what’s really at the root of such chaos? Employers are challenged to recruit employees in what is being termed ‘The Great Resignation’. Worldwide there are reports of how people have reevaluated their needs and leaving jobs due to dissatisfaction with management, working conditions, lack of a personal life and more. In February of this year, it was reported that 4.4 million people in the US quit their jobs and 56% of Gen Z will quit their job if it interferes with the personal life. Looking at the cause of all the airport and airline chaos, consumer advocate Christopher Elliott put it frankly to CNN: "there's very little incentive when you're being paid less than a supermarket [would pay you.]" . In Dublin Airport’s case it’s no wonder that the Airport Authority is struggling to find staff when it offers minimum contracts of only 20 hours and only just above minimum wage. Employees as stakeholders have never been more important to organisations and ‘the employer brand’ and yet as we have seen in the last couple of weeks alone, for many employers there is a long way to go to ensure a fair value exchange.


The very human need to be social has NOT been quashed by the pandemic. If anything it has been reinvigorated. To all brand owners who have promised brand experiences to customers, now is the time to go the extra mile to ensure their safety is guaranteed, and that their brand experience is one to remember and shout about…for all the right reasons.

"This summer is going to be a big, exciting one. For brands and organisers worldwide, the most important thing to prioritise is safety - psychological and physical. For young people, especially young women, BIPOC, and LGBTQI+ communities, there are increased risks. There's many fails and faux pas when safety isn't fully considered - and the fall out is brand reputation damage. This brand damage is always avoidable with audience insights and understanding. Acting in the interest of the audience is key - and safety is arguably one of the most important parts of that. Keeping the trust and safety of our audiences is our responsibility. Knowing what risks our customers and fans face helps us develop a deeper, and more meaningful experience with them at events and through our communications. Consumers are always grateful when a brand goes the extra mile to make them feel safe, welcome and included." Jane McDaid, Founder and Head of Creative Innovation, THINKHOUSE