On the experience economy

The experience economy is the name for “Pine and Gilmore’s (1999) assertion that the developed world was moving from a service- to an experience-based economy […which…] was based partly on their analysis of the growth of US leisure and tourism attractions, such as theme parks, concerts, cinema and sports events, which they found to outperform other sectors in terms of price, employment and nominal gross domestic product (GDP). Their explanation was that these businesses all offered experiences which were valued because they were unique, memorable and engaged the individual in a personal way.” (Morgan, 2009, p 201)

It is important to remember that the experience economy is an economic concept: “an experience can be a competitive advantage of products. The experience economy is the latest stage of an evolution aimed at extracting as much value from the market as possible” (Lorentzen 2009 p 3)

The idea “challenges the dominant expectancy disconfirmation approach to service quality, which assumes purchase decisions and satisfactions are based on a rational evaluation of a series of service attributes … rather than an affective response to the overall outcome …. Instead … people bring vague expectations of intense emotional outcomes. Such outcomes might include ‘feelings, fantasy and fun’… escape and relaxation …entertainment … and novelty and surprise…Satisfaction is measured not against a mental checklist of discrete attributes but emerges over the time frame of the whole visit…. Hedonic escapism is often not an end in itself but a means of fulfilling deeper aspirations…. leisure consumers use their consumption to make a statement about themselves ‘to create their identities and develop a sense of belonging through consumption’.” (Morgan p 2009 p 203)

Also note that the ‘experience’ is meant to be deliberately generated: “a consumption project is defined as an activity that is carried out with a purpose of generating an experience. A consumption project will require resources, and the concept consumption set is defined by the resources needed for a consumption project.” (Andersson 2007 p 47). “only by creating unique and memorable experiences for its consumers can any service organisation achieve a lasting competitive advantage” (Morgan 2009 p 202)

Morgan adds “Pine and Gilmore develop their ideas by drawing on the insights of Schechner’s Performance Theory. Schechner combines
anthropological and literary analysis of Greek drama and tribal rituals to identify the key elements of all enactments — drama, scripts, theatre and performance. The drama is the domain of the author, whose idea is then realised through scripts, directions, sets and actors to become the performance experienced by the audience. To Pine and Gilmore (1999), the drama is the business strategy, the scripts are the processes, and the performance is the delivery of the product to the customer, which needs to be stage-managed as carefully as any theatrical show.”

We had several experience generators at EVA 2017.

Perhaps the most extraordinary (and questionable) was Sean Rogg. Rogg’s Waldorf Projecthas moved from cooking as an art form to extraordinary restaurant ‘experiences’ where the diners are force fed, subject to sensory disturbances, and psychological manipulation. The captions to his article in the EVA proceedings (p 151) include such gems as ‘a guest in the third stage being fed to be controlled’ and ‘a guest at stage 4 (rebirth) gagging/suffocation and fear through plastic membrane”. You pay £79 for this experience, and only 40 people can take part at a time. It requires 50 staff to handle them. I sat through his talk in mounting despair, thinking of Robert Jay Lifton’s book on brain-washing. I suppose what it demonstrates most clearly is that when people have paid £79 for an experience to demonstrate their artistic sophistication, they will put up with almost anything.

Manchester’s Plinth is part of an initiative to clean up down-town Manchester and make it a ‘smart city’. The presentation at EVA was about a digital plinth which ‘would enable the public of Manchester to directly engage with key works in [Manchester Museums]… showcased in a public virtual arena… engaged with and visible to a wider public..’ Ignoring the rather breathless prose, one example given was of a ‘Morris Ball’, a length of William Morris wallpaper digitally manipulated into ‘a three-dimensional interactive ball… playfully pulsating and performing on the Manchester plinth whilst users can be directed and inspired to engage with the work, each part of the design will be recording and expanding user user interactivity, health and well-being…’. This baffles me completely: it’s the sort of prose that is written to win grants. Leaving aside what it has to do with health and well-being, I suspect the main result will be a generation of young Mancunians on school trips coming to believe that William Morris designed the original Tardis.

The worrying thing is that economics is distorting ‘experiences’. We are no longer allowed to look and think for ourselves: we have to have our experiences pre-packaged so that we are helped “to create their identities and develop a sense of belonging through consumption”. Experiences have to be ‘intense’ and ’emotional’, not thoughtful or intelligent. And the experiences are designed by marketing managers, assessed on their ability to extract the most value from their ‘consumption sets’, not by people who might actually care what Morris (say) was really about. Lastly, everyone’s experience should be the same, or at least created by the same ‘narrative’ and ‘touchpoints’.

These days, every time I hear the words ‘experience’, ‘narrative’ or ‘playful’, I reach for my Royal Armouries Experience.


Tommy D. Andersson (2007) The Tourist in the Experience Economy,
Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 7:1, 46-58, DOI: 10.1080/15022250701224035

ANNE LORENTZEN Cities in the Experience Economy European Planning Studies Vol. 17, No. 6, June 2009

Michael Morgan, Jörgen Elbe and Javier de Esteban Curiel: Has the Experience Economy Arrived? The Views of Destination Managers in Three Visitor-dependent Areas. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TOURISM RESEARCH Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 201–216 (2009)

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