How to handle bookings for a fair

How to handle bookings for a fair
Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

Art fairs are back and it's great to see so many people perusing the aisles and speaking with gallerists and artists face to face once more.

But getting all the various visitors into a fair is no easy task. There are preview days with invited guests, press to accommodate and public ticketing.

In this guide we break down the ways fairs handle the many lists of visitors and how they make booking and entering fairs simple and sleek.

Segmenting the audience

The first thing any fair must do is segment their audience. This allows the fair to allocate availability and manage capacity at a fair.

Generally speaking VIPs (invited guests who are not required to pay for tickets to a fair) tend to make up over 50% of attendees. These VIPs can be further segmented into categories based on their profiles. Higher value customers tend to be invited to earlier viewings.

We generally advise clients to break the groups into VIPAAA, VIP1 and VIP2. Each of these can be allocated different privileges such as allowing them to book earlier, book special events and the option to bring multiple +1's.

In addition to the VIPs, other groups of invited guests include Partners Nominations, Press and Sponsors.  The benefit of segregating these lists is 3 fold:

  • Management teams can quickly see who is attending.
  • Allow front of house staff to direct different visitors correctly.
  • Allow in-depth analysis of booking/attendance rates

Public Ticketing

Public ticketing although simpler in set up requires more focus on marketing and strategy. Releasing tickets early and using early bird pricing is something we see many fairs put a focus on. It is also important to have ways in place to handle group bookings (often at discount).

It is also important to make your invited guests aware that they will receive invitations when you launch public ticketing so they don't then request refunds at a later date.

Setting availability and managing attendance rates

Managing the capacity of venue during a fair is no simple task. With Invited guests generally coming to the preview days and larger amounts of the public attending over the weekend (towards the end of the fair) it is important to make sure the attendance is spread out evenly to avoid overcrowding and  queuing.

Key concepts to manage capacity:

  • Flow rate: What is the maximum amount of people front of house can admit per hour
  • Average attendance time: How long the average visitor stay in the fair
  • Capacity: The total amount of people allowed in the venue at a given time (remember to include the exhibitors)

Time slot booking is a great way to manage the flow rate and spread the bookings proportionally amongst the attendees.

ARTSVP clients can manage the number of bookable slots per group on an hourly basis allowing them to shift the focus from VIPs to public ticketing as the fair progresses.

Inviting guests

When setting a timeline to invite guests there are several key things to take into account:

  • When will you have all the gallery nominations of guests
  • Understand different groups book at different times
  • Covid restrictions could change

Generally we recommend inviting guests no earlier than a month prior to the fair. Any earlier and guest are likely to be unsure of their travel plans and are likely to delay booking. It is however a good idea to make all invited guests aware they will be able to book as soon as possible.

It is worth noting that collectors and VIP's tend to book later then industry professionals as they are fitting in the fair visit with their social and work diaries.

When you are ready to invite guests it is important to make the process simple and intuitive. Making sure messaging across email communications, websites and press releases is critical for reducing unwanted phone calls and personal emails.

Booking pages are one way to make this process slick and easy. Showing availability and allowing invited guest to indicate if they are bringing a +1 is critical for managing numbers.

Other options include asking VIP's to create accounts and book from their VIP dashboard. This has the benefit of helping fairs onboard their audience. In tern VIP's have a fully branded experience and can refer back to their account to see their pass or make changes easily.

Finally some fairs opt to send personal invite links. These allow the user to indicate their attendance (and time of attendance) without having to enter their name and email. This also helps fairs make sure only invited guests can book for certain times of day and for free.

Reminder emails

Sending reminder emails to all booked in guests helps increase attendance and also provides guests with an opportunity to potentially change their attendance date/time. Many services like ARTSVP will handle these automatically.

It is also a great opportunity to highlight the arrival procedure at the fair. Things to mention include:

  • Directions
  • How flexible entrance times are
  • Entry procedure (will guest have to scan their pass or will their name be on the door)
  • What will have to be put in the cloakroom
  • Covid measures. Proof of vaccination, mask wearing policy etc (we recommend linking to a single webpage with the full measures)

Front of house

Depending on the size of the fair there are several different solutions to handling front of house from scanning tickets and passes to having every guests name on a guest-list.

Generally it is good practice to have multiple entrance lines which reduces the likelihood of blockages and queues forming. We recommend also having a help desk to handle any guest who either haven't booked or who's name can't be found on the list quickly.

It is also important to have clear signage. If possible we recommend having someone on the door to direct visitors and let them know if they need to get their pass or if their name will be on the door.

For ARTSVP clients it is super easy to check in all visitors (VIPs, Press and Public) from the same guest list. We have built a special view specifically for fairs to combine lists making tit easy to find visitor bookings and check them in from an iPad or phone. We put special car into making it easy to see admin notes, take +1 details if required and sync all list so they auto checkin across all devices without the need to refresh pages.


If you'd like to find out how ARTSVP can help improve the booking and arrival experience for your visitors please contact us on [email protected] and we'd be happy to arrange a call to discuss further.