Here’s when the US public currently anticipates returning to their more regular attendance behaviors, with additional segmentation by their region of residence.
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 and other COVID-19 data for cultural entities here. Please subscribe to be notified of new articles via email.
Welcome, April! Since we started publishing these Monday updates on intentions to visit cultural entities, we’ve received several requests to start cutting the data by region of residence. We hear you – and this week we’ll include data organized by select regions of the United States.
As usual, a lot has happened in the past week. Since last publishing the previous update, the President extended social distancing guidelines through the end of April. The US surpassed 300,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, and we are nearing 10,000 deaths from the virus. The White House has said that we are in for a “very painful” few weeks with national deaths projected to surpass 100,000, and health officials have called this coming week “our Pearl Harbor” and a “9/11 moment.” The CDC has recommended people cover their faces with cloth masks when they leave the house.
With so much rapidly evolving, have intentions to visit cultural institutions changed since last week?
Today we are providing a one-week update and sharing information collected through April 4th. 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 to symphonies. This is our fourth weekly update of this metric. For the week ranging March 29 – April 4, the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 2,377 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?
Updated data on intent to visit cultural entities as of April 4th
As usual, let’s start with the data for 2019 for comparative context, especially as we’re now into the month of April. 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 and to April 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. We historically observe relative near-term intentions to visit increase from March to April as people start earnestly making plans for their summer vacations.
Please note that the data for 2019 is shown for the end of each month. This is not the case for the 2020 chart, which is cut by week starting on March 13th – the date the US declared a national emergency due to the global pandemic.
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 four weeks.
Intentions to visit cultural entities within the next month and three months are stable compared to last week. This finding again affirms the expected duration of significant coronavirus-related business interruption as falling within three months.
People did not intend to visit cultural organizations last week and they do not generally indicate an intent 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. This may indicate – as we noted last week – many folks in the US have been at home for a while now, and the expectation of the end of their self-imposed quarantine may be drawing nearer as time marches on.
Though three-month intentions to visit remained stable since last week, we’ve entered April – a month wherein intentions to visit typically rise as planning commences for summertime activities. March ended with intentions to visit only slightly depressed compared to the same time last year, but intentions to visit this month may reveal the depth of impact on cultural institutions. As summer is generally a busy time period for visitor-serving enterprises, declining intentions to visit during the summer-planning timeframe may mean fewer attendees if/when the doors open this summer. This makes efforts to remain top-of-mind in the coming months even more important.
Still, the takeaway remains the same as last week: 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, with a full recovery to normal attendance behaviors by six months.
Is there variance by region?
Yes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we do observe nuance and variance by regional markets. America is a complex and diverse place.
In the chart below, we’ve shared data for several of the most populated geographic areas in the United States. Since commencing research concerning the impacts of COVID-19, our data collection processes have endeavored to be representative of the US population. Thus, as a function of representative data collection, we currently have collected more samples from more populated states and regions. As we continue to collect additional data, we’ll further regionalize the findings.
In many cases, we’ve also grouped states together by both their geographic proximity and attitudinal similarity. For example, surveyed respondents in California, Oregon, and Washington indicate similar intentions to visit cultural entities; thus, they have been collectively aggregated and defined as a unique cohort. Where attitudinal variances have been observed within a region, this region has been accordingly segmented. You’ll notice this in the case of North Carolina. One might be tempted to group North Carolina with its fellow southeastern states of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. But take a look at the chart. Intentions to visit cultural institutions within the three-month duration vary for North Carolinians when compared to those residing in their neighboring southern states.
Again, it’s helpful to start with a look at intentions to visit by region in 2019 for comparative context:
As you can see, some states indicate different levels of intentions to visit during a non-pandemic time period. This makes sense and there are some factors that contribute to this variance. For instance, not every region has equal access and/or interest in cultural enterprise. We frequently observe that regions with greater densities – both in terms of population and cultural organizations – have higher near-term intentions to visit a cultural organization. This makes sense – it takes a lot less time to plan a visit to an organization across the street than one that is a road trip away.
Here’s where things stood this last Saturday, during the first week of April in 2020:
The research shows a significant range of attitudes based on regional sentiment, with a general correlation to how much that region is currently impacted by COVID-19 and associated restrictions. While the national data is helpful for a broad diagnosis of the sector as a whole, COVID-19 is not impacting regions equally at the moment. New York has seen over 3,500 deaths and is bracing for a particularly difficult week, but Georgia’s governor has reopened its beaches and South Carolina is one of the few states still holding out on a stay-at-home order at the time of the data collection. These sentiments may be informed by what’s happening on the ground (i.e., how dire is the situation in the local communities), and by prevailing public policies.
The research affirms that especially right now, organizations benefit by being mindful of the national trend, but also of regional sentiment, particularly as it relates to their respective audience constructs. If your organization depends on tri-state visitation (i.e. NY, NJ, CT), then the current findings may pose concern at the moment.
Could sentiments evolve (or devolve, rather) in the southeast should the situation on the ground worsen appreciably? They could indeed.
Could they get better as time passes? People expect so, regardless of region.
These findings represent a moment in time. A moment in soon-to-be history. That said, quantifying these moments helps cultural executives to make informed choices based on the most current, best available information.
There are glimmers of hope in the data. Overall, intentions remain stable compared to last week. Over three months, intentions to visit start to approach historically observed levels. This is encouraging! If we observed erosion in longer-term intentions, it would suggest a significant shift in public attitudes. We continue to observe a fairly durable belief that the bulk of the expected impact will fall within the next three months.
We will continue to keep you armed with data, with the next update to this metric coming your way on Monday, April 13. This Wednesday, we’ll provide an update on the current likelihood to visit different entity types when they reopen.
Heartbreak is heavy within the industry right now. If you’re a leader sitting in agony at your kitchen table trying to balance spreadsheets and make painful decisions, our hearts go out to you. If you’re furloughed and trying to figure out how to make ends meet, our hearts go out to you. If you’ve lost a position within an institution that brought you great inspiration and you feel hurt or betrayed, our hearts go out to you. (And we’ll need your passion back – hopefully soon!)
Our hearts go out to artists, dancers, leaders, educators, curators, scientists, historians, animal caretakers, facility managers, conductors, horticulturists, singers, interpreters, musicians, aquarists, volunteers… to all of you whose calling is to make life meaningful for the masses.
This is but a season.
Please stay safe, readers. We’ll be back with more on Wednesday.
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.