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UK to hit ‘peak drive-in’ this summer as outdoor cinema bookings boom

The UK is on track to hit “peak drive-in” this summer with outdoor cinema bookings surging ahead of the lifting of restrictions on some Covid-safe gatherings next week.

There has been an “explosion” in the number of events being listed to run from next week, as drive-in cinema benefits from being included in the first wave of outdoor attractions allowed to resume from 12 April under Boris Johnson’s “cautious but irreversible” roadmap out of lockdown.

Ticketing site Eventbrite has seen a 300% increase in listings for drive-in events as operators cater to pent-up demand from people bored of being stuck at home after months under lockdown conditions.

Consumers are planning to celebrate the end of lockdown at events such as 50s-themed “The Big Unlock Grease Party” drive-in cinema in Newcastle, set for 17 April, where prices start at £35 per car.

“We noticed last year that in most months the terms ‘drive-in’ and ‘outdoor cinemas’ were the most searched-for event formats on our site,” said Sebastian Boppert, an executive at Eventbrite. “They’re becoming increasingly popular again now; we may even hit peak drive-in this summer, as people look to get out and about again.”

Pre-pandemic, August has traditionally been the most popular month for drive-in cinema events thanks to the summer weather. However, last year “peak drive-in” occurred in the run-up to Christmas. Eventbrite registered close to 50,000 people attending about 1,000 drive-in events during that period.

That mark is likely to be surpassed in the coming months as a combination of warmer weather and continued restrictions on many other activities fuel the popularity of drive-in cinema. From 17 May, competition in the events sector will greatly increase as cinemas reopen under the next stage of the government’s lifting of restrictions. Indoor eating at bars and restaurants is also due to resume, while audiences and spectators are expected to be allowed back to larger performances and sports matches, assuming test events go well. The plans include a removal of all legal limits on mixing from 21 June.

“Drive-in events are perfect for those people who want to cautiously come out of lockdown before the wider reopening,” says Boppert. “It’s entertainment with the very clear social distancing measures that come from being in your own vehicle.”

The first wave of listings of events permitted from next week are mostly drive-in cinema, with some church services. However, data from last year shows that just over a fifth of drive-in events were film screenings, as the public embraced a wide range of entertainment options from the comfort of their vehicles.

“There are other types of events that have proved to be very popular too, such as in-car karaoke, comedy and bingo, so there is something for everyone’s taste,” said Gerald Hayford, director at event firm CH Cinema. “We have 250 drive-in events already planned between April and December. In fact, they are going so well that in some venues we are installing permanent screens.”