Coronavirus Shut Down the ʻExperience Economy.ʼ Can It Come Back?

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A quandary is lurking at the heart of the efforts to revive the economy.

In recent decades, a growing share of job growth and gross domestic product has come from the business of getting people together — from college sports and music festivals like Coachella to ax-throwing bars and ice cream museums. Yet given the infectious nature of the coronavirus, these very events will be among the very last to return.

“Any place people want to gather is a place no one wants to be right now,” said Joe Pine, a co-author of “The Experience Economy.”

That bleak truth has profound implications for businesses large and small. And with most large-scale gatherings on hold for the foreseeable future, the dearth of live events is already taking a psychological toll, not only on those in the industry but on society at large.

“Human contact is really what our business is built on,” said Roland Swenson, chief executive of South by Southwest, the music, film and technology festival in Austin, Texas, which was canceled in March. “If that is lost, then the world will be a poorer place.”

The economy’s reliance on live events has been growing for years. When Disneyland opened in 1955, it sparked a boom in the theme park business. In recent decades, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Great Wolf Lodge water parks and more have emerged to compete for the attention — and money — of American families.

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