ConsultEcon Management & Economic Insight


May 24, 2021
Covid-Where do we go from here- Emerging Opportunities Ahead
Written by: Thomas J. Martin, President, ConsultEcon, Inc.

The first two blogs in this series discussed what history can tell us about the impacts of pandemics, and the current impacts of the covid crisis. This last in the series discusses the prospects going forward.

First and foremost within a year or two most people will “forget” the pandemic and return to normal patterns of activity—this was the pattern in the 1920’s as the roaring twenties took hold after the Spanish Flu epidemic and the first world war. Pent up demand created substantial economic activity and social change. In the 1920’s, social and economic trends that were starting before the epidemic accelerated afterwards. This pattern is likely to repeat in the 2020’s. While there is a great desire to forget the pandemic, at the same time a “fear factor” will hover over many activities in the near term. The last major pandemic lasted over two years (without vaccinations available), and recent surveys by the American Psychological Association indicate that regardless of vaccination status almost half of Americans feel uneasy about in person interactions and a certain percent of the population will remain fearful until it is clear that normalcy has returned with a very low level of covid cases.

For the short term, hybrid approaches will become more normalized such as hybrid offices, hybrid meetings and classes, and hybrid schedules. Increased patterns of remote connections will create more demand for “real” experiences. David Whitemyer in a recent Informal Learning Review article (“Paradise Lost: What we’re Missing…and how to get it back”, Informal Learning Review, March/April 2021, No 166) describes how museums can fulfill this need thru spatial experience; encounters with strangers and the presence of greatness – exposure to the real objects and art. Tourism, a key market support for cultural attractions may be slower to return to pre-covid levels – the airline industry believes that airline capacity may not return to 2019 levels for some time. International travel is likely to rebound more slowly. On the other hand, local and auto based tourism may increase more rapidly as consumers stay closer to home in the near future; and visiting friend and family travel returning more rapidly than other travel purposes.

For museums and attractions of all types, new sources of revenue will be needed, especially those highly dependent on attendance generated revenues. For instance the New England Aquarium in Boston has partnered with “bluetech” businesses to launch ocean-centric startups. For many museums collections focus will give way to an experience focus going forward to generate repeat visitation from local residents. Outdoor attractions with easier social distancing will continue to see an increase in attendance and activity. Botanical gardens, for instance, have seen attendance increase significantly over the last year and this will likely continue in the near future.

The city planning implications are likely to be profound in the decade ahead – suburbanization and the multi-centered metropolis being given new impetus; new work/live patterns being reinforced with new hybrid types of real estate products. There will be challenges to the transportation and infrastructure systems to support consumer demands for “instantaneous delivery” of goods in the multi-centered cities. There will be more demand for open spaces for active and passive recreation; and for urban public spaces for community gatherings and social interactions. Environmental and public health issues will also be important influences on city planning moving forward. Lastly, the social justice movement will continue to influence daily life, politics and entertainment, and museum programming. Starting with Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 to the George Floyd murder, this movement has grown and accelerated during the pandemic into a movement that will continue to impact life in the 2020’s. As we emerge from the pandemic in the United States, we are aware of the danger for its re-occurrence until most of the world’s population is vaccinated and the pandemic is clearly over. While the impacts from the pandemic have been significant, new social and economic opportunities have emerged and will shape the 2020’s.