A virtual Valentine’s for Vancouver businesses

Vancouver Mysteries owner Tanya Bennett with office assistant and company actor Titus | Chung Chow

While Valentine’s Day has a reputation for pursuing a lot of close contact, that won’t be the case this year for Vancouver Mysteries Inc.

It’s been creating themed murder mysteries, spy thrillers and other outdoor group games since 2014, and last year the company drew 24 couples to downtown Vancouver for some very friendly competition amongst nearly 50 people.

“We’d sell out every year, and it would just grow every year,” said Vancouver Mysteries owner Tanya Bennett, who bought out her business partner four months before the pandemic paralyzed much of the economy last spring.

“And of course this year we can’t do that because, No. 1, you can’t even have an event … And we can’t have people from more than one household gathering, so we can’t have a competition.”

Like many B.C. companies, Vancouver Mysteries has had to adjust its business model to abide by restrictions.

This year’s Valentine’s Day outdoor event will be relying on contactless deliveries and payments, and limited to a single household per 30-minute time slot.

But Bennett said the company has also turned to virtual offerings to stay afloat.

“I went from having no virtual games to having virtual games, up on my website with bookings probably within 14 days.”

Bennett added that she was able to tap existing games developed by companies in Australia and Germany to go virtual so quickly.

Other Vancouver companies specializing in experiences have also had to take a hard left turn towards virtual offerings this Valentine’s Day.

“People are often willing to spend a little bit more money on Valentine’s Day celebrations, so it’s a big day in the industry,” said Ksenia Dempster, brand manager for Belgard Kitchen and the Settlement Building Brand Collective.

Belgard Kitchen is leaning on its virtual experience for Valentine’s Day, offering meal kits that include all the raw ingredients needed to make a romantic dinner.

The big distinction between this and other restaurants prepping for the celebration of romance is that the meal kits come with a YouTube link featuring chef’s instructions for home cooks to follow along with at their own pace as they make scallops, risotto and dessert.

Dempster said the idea came together during the pandemic following some experimentations with standard meal kits for holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving, as well as recent virtual events the company has facilitated.

Dempster said there’s been significant pressure on the industry to keep coming up with creative ways to continue capitalizing on dependable, money-making days like Valentine’s.

“There’s so much uncertainty … as we all saw with New Year’s Eve and the last-minute change of plans. 

“It’s scary to commit to doing something new. You don’t know how it’s going to land, you don’t know if it’s going to take off, you don’t know if we’re going to have the rug ripped out from under us again,” she said. 

“It’s a very resilient industry full of very resilient people, so we’ll keep doing what we have to do.”