Here’s when people in the US currently anticipate returning to their more regular attendance behaviors.
In addition to first publishing this metric last Monday, last Wednesday we shared research to inform marketing strategies during this time of business interruption and closure. This coming Wednesday, March 25, we will share new data on how COVID-19 has impacted peoples’ perceptual demand for types of cultural entities. You can subscribe here so you don’t miss it.
We first shared this metric last week concerning data collected through March 13th – the date on which the COVID-19 global pandemic was declared a national emergency in the United States. Since then, we’ve surpassed 32,000 cases of the coronavirus in the US, upgraded to a level four travel advisory, and one in five Americans is currently “sheltering in place” as directed by state and local government officials to help slow the spread of the virus.
Hello from my kitchen table in Chicago, where I am abiding by one of the many stay-at-home orders myself.
Last week, we observed that people intend to fully return to usual visitation behaviors within three to six months – and noted that the US public’s intentions to visit cultural entities within the next three months were only slightly depressed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people did not intend to visit cultural entities within the next week or month.
But has this changed in the last week?
Today we are providing a one-week update and sharing information collected through March 21. The data quantify the US adult public’s intentions to visit 84 unique cultural organizations within the United States – from art museums and aquariums to theaters and symphonies. For the week spanning March 14-21, the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 3,904 US adults.
A brief reminder of what “intent to visit” means, and why it matters 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 a generally reliable gauge of likely attendance.
“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 are closed. Like other enterprises at the moment, their financial strife is making headlines. This interruption of our regular operations begs multiple questions:
When we reopen, will people come back?
When do people think that they’ll come back?
How is the current environment – at this moment – impacting future plans?
And, critically, how is this changing over time?
Is it changing at all?
Updated data on intentions to visit cultural entities as of March 21st
Let’s start with the data for 2019 for a comparative context. 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. As you study the second chart, you’ll notice that recent intentions to visit closely 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.
The upticks from January to February and then to March in 2019 broadly reflect seasonal trends. They are the result of folks more actively making Spring Break plans. This is typical and expected, and you can see that 2020 abides by these same trends prior to the escalation of COVID-19 in early March.
Unlike the data for 2020 – which is shown in more frequent increments in March to show timely response to COVID-19 impacts – the 2019 data is shown for the end of each month.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Washington State on January 20, 2020. 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 and their dates.
The public still currently indicates changes most significantly affecting their intended behaviors for the next month or so, and then gradually returning to more usual behaviors thereafter.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, intent to visit cultural organizations within one week decreased by 75% from February 28 to March 13 – and this sentiment was unchanged for the week ending March 21. Simply put, people did not intent to visit cultural organizations last week and they do not generally indicate an intent to visit them this coming week (or, for that matter, this coming month).
Compared to February 28, intentions to visit cultural entities in three months has decreased by 16.7%. That said, this is not an atypical ebb-and-flow as we observe declines and growths in this metric throughout the course of a year. After all, intent to visit cultural organizations within three months is higher now than it was at the turn of the New Year. Of course, much of the movement of this metric through a year has to deal with seasonality – but it is important to note that while the three-month metric is somewhat depressed, it is not remotely near any sort of historic rock bottom.
Even at this time of uncertainty, most people are currently maintaining comparatively strong intentions to visit and anticipate that the critical, life-altering nature of this emergency will have largely passed within three months.
Longer-term intentions remain stable, suggesting that the public still currently perceives the COVID-19 crisis as relatively finite in its duration and effect on their behaviors. The data indicate that people are still expecting the current phase of self-quarantine and telecommuting to significantly impact their lives for about the next month or so.
“There’s so much news! How can intentions to visit remain largely unchanged since last week?”
Well, they might change next week. We’re watching it.
But consider this: “Sheltering in place” and related orders take a tremendous toll on people’s lives, and there may be only so long that people can imagine doing it. That length of time may approximate one month.
This goes beyond cultural institutions. Millions of Americans may now be unemployed, and they may not tolerate the thought that they’ll be in this situation indefinitely. Parents may not be willing to tolerate the thought of homeschooling their children under quarantine indefinitely. Families expect to see Grandma and Grandpa again soon. Children expect to celebrate birthday parties again. Friends expect to resume game nights and happy hours. Businesses expect not to be shuttered for months. To intend to visit a cultural institution is to intend to go back to a more usual way of life.
And right now, people may intend to get back to a more usual way of life in between one to three months, with things back to a more fully normal state by six months.
Remember that this is a moving target. The “one-week intentions” measured in the March 13 data concern the week that just passed, and the “one-week intentions” quantified in the March 21 data relate to this week.
“Why does this metric even matter if people may continually intend to visit again in between one to three months?”
First, that may not continually happen. It’s only been a week. While the speed of the news and the unprecedented nature of our situation may have us feeling like it’s already been a year, a week is not a lot of time to change sentiment. We need to watch this metric.
But even if people do continually believe that they’ll be leaving their homes in a month or two without change, it significantly impacts strategic direction for cultural organizations.
Because one to three months is squarely in the “lead days to visit” time frame for cultural organizations for certain audiences. Simply, if people believe they will attend a cultural organization within one to three months, then data shows that audiences are already planning their visit. This strongly underscores the imperative to cultivate awareness and remain top of mind for people during this time of closures.
Cultural entities will not open their doors to scores of people without reminding them that they exist and establishing that theirs is an institution worth attending. While local audiences may make these decisions quickly, regional and national audiences have a much longer period of planning before their visits are realized. If we want to maximize attendance upon re-opening, it’s important to cultivate intent to visit before your doors open.
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 continue to keep you armed with data as the situation evolves, with the next update to this metric coming your way on Monday, March 30.
Be safe and strategic in the meantime.
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