The Big Interview: Paul Foster, COO FOAMHAND pt 2: Why understanding cultural differences is crucial to assessing crowd behaviour

Paul Foster

From London to Rio and Pyeongchang to the Gold Coast; four major audiences for global events and each behaving differently presents crowdflow strategists with very different challenges, said Paul Foster, Chief Operating Officer at FOAMHAND.

Foster has recently returned from the Winter Olympics in South Korea leading a team of crowd flow specialists supporting the organising committee develop safe strategies for managing the movement of people during the Games. He said understanding the cultural behavior of crowds in different parts of the world is critical to FOAMHAND’s success when it came to major event planning.

“At London 2012, people were arriving two hours plus prior to their event starting, tickets were very hard to get and spectators really valued their ticket,” he said. “They weren’t going to miss it.

“In Rio 2016, people were happy to miss the start of the games. On one particular occasion I remember observing spectators still outside half an hour after Brazil had kicked off the match. But they were quite happy to go with the flow.

“In some Asian countries the native population often has a slower flow rate, which is attributed in part by a shorter stride length.  So there are lots of cultural differences, which affect how crowds behave. Physical terrain and weather can have a significant impact on flow rates. With temperatures often below -15c in PyeongChang, spectators wearing large coats, this restricts movement and slows walking speeds and time taken to pass through security screening.

“One thing that even surprised our team in Pyeongchang was we believed the uptake on ‘print at home’ or digital tickets on mobile devices would be very high because Koreans are very tech savvy.

“Then in the first day there were  unexpected queues at the ticket box office. At first we couldn’t understand what we were observing during our operational role.

“We spoke to some people and asked “why are you queuing here for a ticket? Advising they could buy it online and go straight in. And they all said: “I want the physical ticket as a souvenir of being at the Games. They were willing to forego the start of the event purely because they wanted that ticket.”


Crowd flow modelling for Gold Coast Commonwealth Games


On another occasion sunglasses were being given out as part of a promotion which attracted large interest which we had not planned for. “It turns out Koreans are quite fanatical about souvenirs and that’s one of the cultural things we learnt and take forward to Tokyo 2020,” he said.

He said it was crucial suppliers spent time getting to know the cultures and build relationships. This is what FOAMHAND has built a reputation on listening and understanding our clients where ever they are in the world. “You never succeed with a single trip, it can take months but its developing that relationship and understanding the local context which is essential”