Experience Radar: Meow Wolf Launches Annual Portal Pass, And Gen Z Shapes The Experience Economy

At The WXO, we want to connect the dots across the Experience Economy and across the globe – so each month, we bring you our round-up of the experiential stories that we think reveal something interesting, relevant or transferrable about the Experience Economy.

Welcome to the latest Experience Radar, where we’re tuning our guitars for Cirque du Soleil’s Nashville debut, making the most of Meow Wolf’s new Portal Pass, and getting to know The Sphere’s new ‘spokesbot’, Aura.

1. Meow Wolf Launches Annual Portal Pass

Headline and above image; Squidsoup, Cheltenham; Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Providing proof (if you ever needed it) that Meow Wolf is the new Disney, the immersive entertainment specialist has launched a Portal Pass offering fans of all ages perpetual access to its four themed attractions across the US for a full year. Giving guests unlimited access to mind-bending immersive art experiences, and, (in their words) “unadulterated weirdness”, pass holders are also entitled to all manner of benefits, including discounts on food, drinks, merch and tickets to Meow Wolf’s 21+ nights. The Portal Passes cost US$84 for adults and US$74 for children, but are available at 20% off for a limited time.

Opening the doors to infinite adventures, the Portal Pass allows for endless encores of interactive exploration throughout the year. Each pass is linked to one Meow Wolf location, so if you want unlimited access to all four sites – The Real Unreal in Texas, Convergence Station in Denver, House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, and Mega Mart in Las Vegas – then you’ll need to splash out on multiple passes. Tapping into the trend for bespoke experiences, Meow Wolf offers customizable annual passes designed to cater to individuals, groups or families, allowing hardcore fans a convenient way to keep coming back.

2. How Immersive Art Is Helping Hospitals

Squidsoup, Cheltenham

Illustrating that immersive experiences can be used for more than mere entertainment, a series of immersive light installations created by Squidsoup – a Cheltenham-based arts collective that fuses art and technology – is helping to improve the patient experience at the Oncology unit in Cheltenham hospital and the Children’s Centre in Gloucester. As reported by the BBC, the installations use hundreds of lights with soothing sounds in Submergence areas design to improve mental health and wellbeing during cancer treatment.

The light installations are smaller versions of the original Beyond Submergence exhibit, which has toured the globe for the last decade. Squidsoup’s creative technologist, Dan Pearson, described the project as “humbling and awe inspiring” to work on. “I never thought we’d be having a conversation about how our work could get into these spaces to improve people’s lives.” Sophie Dawe, an artist recovering from Hodgkin Lymphoma, found the colours and shapes in the installation helped to shift her mood.

3. AlUla To Develop Museum With Centre Pompidou

Dana Awartani’s Where the Dwellers Lay (2022), which was part of Desert X AlUla 2022, the biennial organised in collaboration with the Royal Commission for AlUla. Photography by Lance Gerber

Saudi Arabia‘s Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has signed an agreement with the Centre Pompidou in Paris to open a contemporary art museum in the ancient Arabic oasis city in 2027. As reported by BlooLoop, the museum will reside within Saudi’s AlUla development, known as ‘the world’s largest living museum’. RCU and the Centre Pompidou’s agreement is designed to enhance the existing work between the two parties and allows for the ongoing exchange, loan and display of artworks and artefacts between them.

The RCU is making good headway on the new museum, announcing Lina Gotmeh as the institution’s architect in May. The space will immerse visitors “in a creative journey from the desert expanse to the lush cultural oasis of AlUla, interweaving the natural environment, agriculture and art to reveal the heart of contemporary culture”, Gotmeh said. The $15 billion AlUla project is located close to Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, which opened to the public in 2020. The RCU was established in 2017 to preserve and develop AlUla alongside the French government agency Afalula.

4. Gen Z Is Shaping The Experience Economy

Modern Home by Rob Christain Crosby

Generation Z has a seemingly insatiable appetite for entertainment and is currently influencing the evolution of the Experience Economy, according to Forbes. Making up for lost time post pandemic, spending on experiences in the US has risen by 65% from 2019 to 2023 according to Mastercard’s recent Travel Industry Trends Report. The cost of living crisis doesn’t appear to be putting off Gen Z consumers (born between 1997 to 2012) from splashing their cash on entertainment experiences at theme parks, live events and local attractions. It’s a similar situation in the UK, with 210,000 tickets for next year’s Glastonbury music festival in Somerset selling out in under an hour in November.

Flexing their spending power, half of Gen Zers who took a recent entertainment survey by LaneTerralever in partnership with IAAPA, plan to visit a higher number of attractions in 2024 than they did this year, making them a powerful demographic within the Experience Economy and worth listening to. According to the survey, among the things they’re seeking from their leisure time are ‘unique’ experiences, which they’re willing to pay more for, and those that are kind to the planet, with 80% of those surveyed stating that sustainability is a key driver when it comes to their entertainment spend.

5. Cirque Du Soleil Heads To Nashville

Cirque du Soleil and Universal Music Group Nashville Tour Premiere July 2024

If you like your acrobatics with a country twist then you’re in luck as entertainment maestro Cirque du Soleil has partnered with Universal Music Group Nashville on a new touring show. As reported by Billboard, the show will launch in Nashville in July 2024 at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center and will feature music from contemporary and legendary country artists. “Cirque du Soleil is a shining example of making the impossible possible through creativity, collaboration and emotion. The chance to bring the history of country music to life in a live theatrical setting will allow our music to live on with a new generation of audiences,” said Cindy Mabe, CEO of UMG Nashville.

Cirque du Soleil’s CEO, Stéphane Lefebvre, added that working with the country music genre “challenges our creative team to innovate and come up with unique ways to interpret the music and pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in live entertainment”. The show will feature a curated blend of classic and new country songs covering everything from love and loss to friendship. “The authentic charm of country music will be translated into breathtaking acrobatics, visual spectacles and immersive storytelling,” Lefebvre said.

6. AI Robot To Greet Guests At Vegas Sphere

Aura, the humanoid robot at Sphere, Las Vegas

The much-hyped opening of the Sphere in Las Vegas has made a splash in the entertainment industry, and now news reaches us that the revolutionary venue will be presided over by “the world’s most advanced humanoid robot”. As reported by BlooLoop, the bot, christened ‘Aura’, will take up permanent residence at US$2.3bn space and will be tasked with greeting guests and providing directions. In order to get around everyone, five Aura robots will work at the Sphere. Developed using advanced robotics tech and AI, Aura will also serve as the venue’s “spokesbot” on digital platforms and social media.

As is commonplace with machine learning, Aura’s technical abilities will improve over time as she learns more about humans from her interactions with visitors. From the jump, however, she’ll be able to answer complex questions about the attraction’s engineering, custom-designed technology and creative mission. “Aura’s role at the Sphere marks a truly innovative application of robots, providing guests from around the globe with an opportunity to move into the future of entertainment and interact within a new technological frontier,” David Dibble, CEO of MSG Ventures told BlooLoop.

7. Relaxation Is Becoming A Competitive Sport

Modern Home by Rob Christain Crosby

In an act of rebellion against information overload, people are increasingly seeking out quiet spaces to reset and recharge. As reported by Wunderman Thompson, these time out zones are being incorporated both into work spaces and entertainment venues, offering workers and consumers a moment of respite from their frenetic daily lives. Retail Mecca The O2 Centre in London recently opened a dedicated a quiet space allowing shoppers the chance to disconnect from the busy environment and enjoy a moment of calm, while software giant Adobe is installing quiet rooms in its offices, giving workers a space for reflection if they’re having a hard day. 

Chilling out was taken to new heights in the UK this year with the launch of the Extreme Relaxing UK Championships in London, where 30 contestants battled it out to be crowned the chilliest of them all. The competition was founded by sport psychologist Dr. Jamie Barker to raise awareness of the growing problem of burnout in Britain. While the Italians have long been masters of ‘dolce far niente’, the Dutch trend of ‘Niksen, which celebrates the joy of idleness, is taking hold in the UK. Science backs up the need to let our minds wander, as it’s in these seemingly wasted moments of downtime that we often have our most creative thoughts and ideas.