'Lies' about visitor numbers

Organizers often juggle the wildest figures when it comes to the number of visitors to their events. At least, that’s what Teacher Event Logistics' Maarten van Rijn sees happening in the field. Kevin asks him what's going on.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Organizers often juggle the wildest figures when it comes to the number of visitors to their events. At least, that’s what Teacher Event Logistics’ Maarten van Rijn sees happening in the field. I ask him what's going on.


Hi Maarten, welcome to our studio.


My pleasure.


A lot of organizers lie about the number of visitors to their events. How do you know that?


Well, there are two aspects on that. One is that marketing is, for their organizer’s, so important that the amount of people is telling them that the sponsors will join this special event because there will be a hundred-thousand; A hundred-fifty thousand visitors, and that aspect is so important that the real figures – What you need for calculations; What you need for safety measures – are actually much, much lower than the marketing results. So, if you read something in the newspaper like ‘200,000 people came in this city festival.’ Then, well, say 150,000 is more realistic. Even less.


When you organize a fenced event, then of course that’s no problem because, well, everyone has a ticket, and the tickets are scanned, and so you have the real figures. But, for inner-city events, they always exaggerate, just because of sponsorship.


But, how, then, did you measure that?


Well, we, there are, of course, many techniques, and not all the techniques are really working very well at this moment, but, I’ve done some events now with cameras, with software which recognize head and shoulders and they count very, very accurately. So, that means that if you use those cameras, especially in passages and everything, you can see the speed of walking, you can see the amount of people in a street, and you can really calculate the figures you need for calculating the facilities, and..


And it’s coming real-time…


And, it’s coming real time. So, you can always say, ‘Okay, this is the amount of people in this street. Now we have to buffer, we have to close down that area for 5 minutes so that people can go out, because there are too many at this moment in this space…’ And, it’s not done just by vision. A lot of crowd managers… ‘Alleged crowd managers’, or people who are really doing that for a long time and their qualities – I’m not discussing that. But, an estimation about how many people are walking in the street is just based on an image that they have of a thousand people. And, maybe you can say, ‘Okay, a thousand people is, well, maybe 900, maybe 1100’ but, a thousand people is okay. But if you do that with 10,000 people, if you do that with 20,000 people, it’s impossible. You can’t do that any more. And, even the most experienced ones are actually not accurate.


But, how many percentages are they off, then?


Well, I think they miscalculate by vision for 15 to 20 percent. And the marketing figures are even worse. They’re 30, 35. But, you shouldn’t take those figures for granted, never. What the organization calls, is complete…


The biggest problem in the newspapers is, you have the organization, shouting some numbers, and then you have the police shouting some other numbers, and…


I want to have the discussion about figures. I want to have the discussion with the event organization, I want to have that with the government, I want to have it with everyone. I don’t want to have the right on my side. I don’t want to be the one who knows everything, not at all. But, I want to have the discussion. Just because of the safety involved. Please let us talk about the same amount of people in a certain area. And, if we have a decent way to measure that, use it. So, we can base our measurement, base our precautions, base our safety measure – whatever – on real figures, and not based on guesses.


But, why do you think, if the technology is there, that organizers are not using it?






Well, it costs, of course. There are costs involved. You need people using the software, using the cameras, putting the cameras in the right spots, analyzing the figures. Yeah, that’s cost. In an event where I worked this weekend, the event organizer is a logistic engineer. And, he is doing the production. And, he knows how important it is to work with real data. And, a former student of mine was actually using those cameras and put it into his software, his simulation software, and real-time, they changed their facilities. Because of safety.


But, at the same time, it can be cost-saving, because if you foresee security people for 900,000 visitors, and you actually have 500,000, you can cut half of them.


Right, right. Entrances. If you use your real data for a simulation, which is possible, the software is there. And, you can calculate with those figures, how many entrances you really need, and how much waiting time you accept, then it’s easy. You can say, ‘Okay, we don’t need 50 entrance ways, but, we only need 35. It saves you 15 to 20 safety people.


What about chips in wristbands?


I would advise every organization to just say, RFID in your wristband is for about 10% of the people, and they don’t…


Not everybody?


Not everybody. That’s not necessary, with even less than 10% But, then you can collect your data during a festival, and you can work with those data for the next organization. You can see where people have been walking. And it’s not interesting if Peter, or Jana, or whatever he’s called, but, it’s just one person. And, look what they are doing. They are migrating in that festival from left to right. Or, maybe they are not migrating as much as we think they are? There’s only a small group migrating. But, they’re migrating all day.

 And, you should know that, just to be on the safe side, for organizing your events.


Your opinion. What should be happening?


Work with real data. Every organizer, and every party involved, should work with real data, and not doing the exaggeration for purposes like sponsorship. If everybody does that, then there’s no marketing element necessary.


Okay. Marten, thank you very much for coming to our studio.


Again, my pleasure.


And, you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next time.