COVID-19 is impacting our audiences’ intentions to visit museums and performing arts organizations. Here’s when people in the US currently anticipate returning to more regular attendance behaviors.
This situation is evolving and data will be next updated on Monday, March 23. We will also publish additional data and analysis this Wednesday (March 18) focusing on the implications of this information for marketing campaigns in light of COVID-19 and related closures. You can subscribe here so that you do not miss them.
A lot has happened in the last week – and in the last few days, in particular. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, March 13. The US public is now encouraged to start self-quarantining and social distancing in order to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19, now a global pandemic. Also, on March 13, many museums and performing arts organizations across the nation announced closures to help prevent further transmission of the virus.
As regular readers well know, IMPACTS collects real-time data regarding perceptions and behaviors surrounding cultural organizations. And yes, this means that we are monitoring how people are reacting to COVID-19. In addition to maintaining what is believed to be the largest continuing survey of perceptions and behaviors surrounding cultural entities, we’re also monitoring various metrics and key performance indicators concerning 224 entities in the United States.
In late February, IMPACTS received a client request to start aggressively amplifying its data collection efforts to specifically assess the virus’s potential impacts on visitor-serving enterprise. On March 13th – the date of the declared national emergency – we quantified the first data concerning visitors’ intentions to visit 84 unique cultural organizations within the United States – from art museums and aquariums to theaters to symphonies. The data and analysis summarized below represent a sample of 5,892 US adults as to their respective intentions concerning these 84 organizations.
What is “intent to visit” and why does it matter right now?
Unlike mere interest in visiting an organization, research shows that intent to visit aligns closely with actual plans and visitation behaviors. Visitors’ stated intentions to visit an organization within a defined duration have historically proven a dependable indicator of actual visitation behaviors, and are generally a reliable gauge of likely attendance.
One’s intent to visit is among the best available metrics for reliably predicting behaviors. It helps us understand people’s plans for future visitation at any given time, and further aligns these intentions to a specific chronology. This metric not only quantifies the strength of intentions to visit an organization but also identifies the duration within which one intends to manifest this intention.
Exhibit and performance-based entities across the nation have announced closures in the last few days. This interruption of our regular operations begs multiple questions:
When we reopen, will people come back?
When do they think they’ll come back?
How is the current environment – in this moment – impacting future plans?
Is it at all?
Current intentions to visit cultural entities
Through February 2020, the quantified intent to visit metric abided by broadly observed seasonal trends. The bump that we see in February is the result of folks more actively making Spring Break plans. This is typical and expected, as you can see in the chart indicating visitor intentions for approximately the same timeframe in 2019.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Washington State on January 20. This diagnosis did not then impact visitors’ intentions to attend visitor-serving organizations. However, there was a dramatic decline in near-term intentions to visit cultural organizations as observed on March 13. Pay special attention to the blue bars in the charts below.
For context, here are the metrics for 2019. (It’s not a typo. The 2019 chart quantifies the end-of-month conditions, while the 2020 chart quantifies a mid-month condition for March to be as timely and responsive as possible to a rapidly evolving situation.) We frequently remind readers that it is often difficult and takes time to shift perceptions and behaviors surrounding an entire industry, and you can see it firsthand here. Just look at how closely intent to visit in 2020 aligned with intent to visit in 2019 until the arrival of COVID-19. Yes, it takes a lot for something to change these numbers and they are generally stable year-over-year.
Research suggests that the US public currently anticipates returning to their more usual attendance behaviors within three to six months.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, intent to visit cultural organizations within one week decreased by 75% from February 28 to March 13. There’s reason to believe that this decline may even be steeper today, as March 13 was the first day of the declared national emergency, and some of the institutions that people intended to visit may only now be closed.
There is encouraging news in the data: The most dramatic declines are currently largely limited to intentions to visit within the next month. Longer-term intentions remain stable, suggesting that the public currently perceives the COVID-19 crisis as relatively finite in its duration and effects on their behaviors. People are (as of Friday, at least) expecting the current phase of self-quarantine and telecommuting to significantly impact their lives for about the next month or so.
This said, compared to February 28, intentions to visit cultural entities in three months decreased by 16.7%. Depending on one’s outlook, this finding is either good news or bad news. On one hand, it is relieving that in this time of uncertainty, most people currently maintain comparatively strong intentions to visit and anticipate that the critical, life-altering nature of this emergency will have largely passed within three months. On the other hand, this decrease underscores that the uncertainty of this time is influencing future planning and consumer decision-making.
For those panicking to the extreme, take this to heart: We are NOT currently seeing that people anticipate changing their attendance plans forever. The public currently indicates changes most significantly affecting their intended behaviors in the next week and month, and returning to more usual behaviors within three to six months.
This can change. Things are moving quickly. As recently as Friday people may not have anticipated restaurants and bars closing this week, or CDC’s Sunday recommendation to postpone events with more than 50 people for the next eight weeks.
We will provide weekly updates on this metric for the next few weeks as the nation works to better understand the depth and breadth of the pandemic. The next update will be published on Monday, March 23. This Wednesday (March 18) we will publish data and analysis to inform marketing strategies during closures.
This is a difficult time not only for cultural organizations but for the US at large. It is difficult professionally and personally. We know that the tough decisions to temporarily close doors are the best ones for our nation and communities in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. But we also know that closing doors takes its toll on not only our ability to thrive as institutions – but, in some cases – to survive as institutions.
We will keep you armed with data as the situation evolves.
Speaking of arms (and hands), go wash them.
Be safe. We will get through this.
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