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Q&A: Embrace the Experience

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Joe Pine
Photo courtesy Joe Pine

After we control the pandemic, people will gather again. Joe Pine has ideas on how we can prepare

Book EconomyIf you’ve heard of the “experience economy,” then you’ve heard of Joe Pine. He co-authored the book that popularized the term. As the COVID-19 pandemic crumples contemporary definitions of social interaction and chucks them in the trash, Pine is busy rewriting the rules. What will experiences be like in a post-coronavirus world? How can Las Vegas — from convention planners and retail managers to tourists and residents — prepare for life in 2021? We asked him some questions about Las Vegas’ future.

How has COVID-19 changed how we interact, generally?

The experience sector of the economy has been killed by the coronacrisis, as I call it. Any place where people gather is no place they want to be right now. The economy won’t fully recover until people are willing to go out in the same capacity they did before. And yet, when things have opened at limited capacity — theme parks, sporting events, bars, restaurants — they immediately get filled to capacity. The one thing that hasn’t is movies, and that’s because there’s an easy substitute for that at home (streaming). The only thing people are willing to go to theaters for is first-run event movies, like Tenet.

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Are these changes permanent?

There will be some permanent changes, but I don’t think that the extreme staying away from experiences is permanent. Once we have population-wide immunity — when 60-80 percent of people are either immune or vaccinated — things will be different. It will be back to being like flu season. But the percentage of people who wear masks permanently will be non-zero. The methodical washing of hands — a majority of people will do that as a matter of course. They’ll be more wary next time they hear those rumors, like back in January 2020 when we first started hearing about the coronavirus overseas. And hopefully, people will pay more attention to those with underlying conditions, becoming more protective of the elderly and those in homes. When we visit we may not hug as much. People will shake hands again, but they’ll do that and then do a little spritz.

And what will be the permanent effect of all that on in-person gatherings?

Conventions will come back. The business people I talk to say yeah, they want to go back. They want to get together and meet in person. I think all that will come back.

But what you will also see is much more hybrid events, which will be better. Festivals, concerts, trade shows will be hybrids. You’ll still offer the live event, and fewer people may come, but you’ll also simulcast it to other people who want to go but can’t make it in person. So, you could have an order of magnitude more people attending your event at the same time, but in different places. And you can offer it asynchronously, chunked up by session, so people pick the parts they want to participate in live or watch the recording of later, and you charge different fees for each type of experience.

The other thing you’ll see is the Twitch-ification of events. So, not only will you watch it remotely and simultaneously, but you’ll also have people watching it with you and talking about it in chat rooms, interacting with each other and learning from it together.

This makes sense for conferences or games, but how about expos, where the whole idea is to kick tires, so to speak? Again, I think they’ll be hybrids, physical and virtual at same time. People in booths and engaging virtually (in digital showrooms) at the same time. They’ll have it set up to do the best possible job of showcasing their product. Trade shows do that already, but we’ll get better at digital. It may mean less attendance overall in Las Vegas. But it also means that, as a show grows, more people may come, because those who were there virtually one year may want to be there in person the next.

The hybrid model doesn’t really help fill hotel rooms, though, does it?

No, but if you have capacity, then you may get more revenue from other segments. For example, a lot of people stay away during the week of CES. It’s a zoo. But if fewer people are at CES, then there’s more capacity for entertainment and family tourism.

What’s the role of architects, designers, and business owners in this transformation?

They need to think about making their spaces amenable to hybrid events. The Masters Golf Tournament has, for the first time, used drones allowing them to catch angles they never could before. You can see the whole hole, rather than just a view from ground level. At live performances, where do you want to have cameras? Do you want to allow for indoor drones? You’ll see more use of screens. The NBA had screens in the stands showing audience members watching at home. If they’d known when they built those arenas that they’d need that, they would’ve designed for it. You may also have more separation of seats. Maybe not a full six feet, but a little more room, more openness in places. If you want to have the same capacity, but people farther apart, then places have to be bigger. So, you’ll have to figure out how to have that and maintain the same level of intimacy.

What big idea would you like to leave Las Vegans with?

One big trend in travel is known as transformational travel. That’s when we get away from our normal environment, and it opens us up to new possibilities. Other times, it’s recognizing there are changes you can make in your life (say, having a better relationship with your spouse) simply by having gotten away from the day-to-day. An example is at theme parks, where parents become their children’s heroes. How can you replicate or emphasize that experience in other environments?

Many companies are realizing they can help people in those endeavors and catering to it, focusing on the things people can learn and take home with them. That’s one thing we’re already seeing, and it may accelerate.

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