Here’s when people in the US currently anticipate returning to their regular attendance behaviors.
IMPACTS is currently publishing data concerning cultural organizations during the COVID-19 global pandemic twice weekly. Intentions-related metrics concerning visitors’ intended behaviors are currently being updated every Monday. You can find previous articles here. Please subscribe to be notified of new updates.
Last week was filled with more dire news: The United States now has more cases of the coronavirus that any other country. One third of the US is under a stay-at-home order, and the CDC has issued a travel advisory for the New York region. Over 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week – a national record. As of the time of my writing, we’ve surpassed 2,400 deaths in our nation alone. Until yesterday evening, President Donald Trump was eager to reopen the economy by Easter.
Given all this, have people’s intentions to visit cultural entities changed since last week?
Today we are providing a one-week update and sharing information collected through March 28. The data quantifies the US adult public’s intentions to visit 84 unique cultural organizations within the United States – from art museums and aquariums to theaters to symphonies. This is our third weekly update of this metric. For the week ranging from March 22-28, the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 2,284 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.
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 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 as the US public learns more about the virus?
Is it changing at all?
Updated data on intent to visit cultural entities as of March 28th
Let’s start with the data for 2019 for 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. 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 observe 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 help 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 to see how intent to visit has been trending in the last three weeks.
Intentions to visit cultural entities within the next three months – and even within one month – have increased compared to last week.
This finding affirms the expected duration of significant coronavirus-related business interruption as falling within the one-month to three-month range.
People did not intent to visit cultural organizations last week and they do not generally indicate intentions to visit them this coming week. People still do not generally intend to visit cultural entities within the next month, for that matter, but the metric indicates recent evidence of an uptick.
Intent to visit cultural organizations within three months decreased by 16.7% from February 28 to March 13 as the coronavirus outbreak was categorized as a global pandemic and the United States declared a national emergency. However, three-month intentions to visit are now only slightly depressed compared to this same time last year.
This is good.
Even at this moment 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 effects on their attendance behaviors. The research indicates 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.
Why might intentions to visit now be increasing despite the growing number of infections?
This data was pulled at the end of the day on Saturday, March 28, prior to President Donald Trump’s announcement on Sunday that the US is extending social distancing measures through April 30th. The timing of the uptick in intentions to visit in the next month lends additional insight into US perceptions of how long this will last and how things are changing.
There are two reasons why the uptick in intentions to visit may not be altogether surprising.
1) The passage of time
This metric is a moving target. The observed increase in one-month intentions to visit may account for the passage of time from last week. The “one-week” intentions measured in the March 21 data concern the week that just passed, and the “one-week” intentions quantified in the March 28 data relate to this coming week. This may mean that people – whether they are aware of it or not – may have a date or time period in mind when they think restrictions will have largely passed…at least enough to visit cultural institutions.
As time goes by, and we get closer to that date or time period, people may be adjusting their intentions to visit accordingly. If intentions to visit remain steady, then the one-month intention will continue to increase over time.
We’re watching this and will continue to keep you posted.
2) Finite tolerance for the condition
These findings may also reflect some growing anxiousness to leave the house. “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 a little over one month – and the clock is already ticking.
This goes beyond cultural institutions. It’s enough that scores 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. To intend to go to a cultural institution is to intend to go back to a more usual way of life.
Alongside this, we observe that the demand for cultural institutions is being redistributed among organization types. While people may intend to visit cultural institutions in general, data shows that they may be currently more likely to visit some entity types more than others in light of COVID-19 threats.
Right now, people indicate their intent to return to a more usual way of life in between one to three months, with things back to a largely normal state by six months.
We’re with you, and we’ll continue to keep you updated with high confidence research to help inform your strategies. We will next update to this metric on Monday, April 6th.
Be safe and strategic, everyone.
Here are the COVID-19 data insights for cultural entities that we’ve published thus far. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.