Weak signal: Will hype destroy the experience economy?

January 5, 2024

Calling all event and experience enthusiasts. We’ve all seen it happen – a video goes viral on social media, and suddenly, an otherwise quaint gathering turns into a chaotic spectacle. The latest buzz suggests the dream of every event planner, having their event go viral, might be turning into a bit of a nightmare. Let’s unpack this curious conundrum and explore why the future of authentic events might be at risk.

Take a stroll through the festive streets of London, and you might find the aftermath of a Christmas carolling event at Columbia Road. A TikTok video sparked a social media frenzy, bringing in a whopping 7,000 revellers – ten times the usual attendance. The local council hit the panic button, labelling the event “a danger to public safety” and subsequently cancelling future carolling services. Even the historic Lincoln Christmas Market faced the chopping block for 2023, thanks to concerns of overcrowding after attracting 320,000 visitors in 2022, well above its 250,000-person limit.

But hold on – this isn’t just a UK problem, and it extends beyond the realm of festive cheer. Down under, in Perth, an innocent meet-and-greet hosted by TikTok creator Anna Paul turned chaotic as fans stampeded the area, leading to medical emergencies and the event’s abrupt cancellation within 14 minutes. Meanwhile, in Kentucky, a Christian worship event faced dispersion after drawing in thousands influenced by social media buzz in February.

So, what’s the big deal? Well, it seems the downside of hype isn’t limited to a few cancelled carolling sessions. We’re seeing a larger issue – the potential demise of authentic experiences due to social media-induced overcrowding. In a world where social capital often stems from experiences rather than possessions, the appeal of unique memories may fade if the trend continues.

The solution? We recommend that brands and event planners might consider stepping away from social media hype and instead embrace organic exposure and good old word of mouth. Imagine events where intimacy and authenticity take centre stage, unencumbered by the chaos of overcrowded venues. Virtual alternatives to in-person experiences might also become a staple, offering a way to mitigate the pitfalls of overcrowding.

But here’s an interesting twist – it’s not just about the physical crowds; it’s about the perceived crowds in images. A recent study reveals that the presence of other people in photos of travel destinations can diminish people’s preference for the venue. Especially for experiences closely tied to self-identity, like once-in-a-lifetime vacations or weddings, brands might do well to let the place speak for itself. Leave room for consumers’ imaginations to wander, free from the potentially off-putting sight of hordes of people.

So, what’s the takeaway here? As we navigate the evolving landscape of event planning and marketing, striking a balance between the allure of social media and the desire for authentic, intimate experiences seems crucial. Perhaps it’s time for a rethink – less viral hype, more genuine connection. After all, the magic of events lies in the moments we create, not just in the number of clicks they get.


Written by Margot Peppers

As Consumer Trends Editor at Foresight Factory, I write, commission and edit commercially impactful content for our intelligence platform Collision. Combining machine intelligence with human talent, Collision connects clients to relevant trends, data and innovations, helping them see beyond today so they can be ready for any tomorrow.