Demand isn’t necessarily increasing or decreasing. Instead, it’s being redistributed. Here’s what’s changed in the last two weeks.
It’s time for an update.
At IMPACTS, we are closely monitoring when people are next planning to visit cultural organizations, including museums and performing arts entities. This metric is known as “intent to visit,” and it helps cultural executives understand the likely duration that the current COVID-19 outbreak will impact their visitors’ planning cycles and attendance patterns. This information is particularly critical for informing marketing strategies and communications right now.
Research shows that people currently expect to start returning to their more usual attendance patterns at around three months, with a full return to normal patterns within six months. That’s good news. But it also begs an important followup question: Will people return to their normal visitation patterns equally for all cultural entities?
The answer, it seems, is that it’s unlikely.
Generally speaking, the people who visit cultural organizations are the people who visit cultural organizations. A person who enjoys live theater has an increased propensity to also be a person who enjoys a historic site. While intentions to visit cultural entities overall shows an expected return to essentially normal behaviors within three to six months for potential visitors, research shows that people may be more likely to visit some organization types more than others. Our baseline data from March 24th shows that people who visit certain cultural entity types are even more likely to visit them than usual when they reopen after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, while visitors to other entity types report that they are less likely to return. The near-term demand for onsite cultural engagement is likely to be redistributed away from some organization types and towards others.
People still indicate intent to leave their home to go to a museum – but they may be more likely to visit an art museum than a science center (at least in the immediate near-term) in a post-coronavirus world.
As promised, today we are sharing a two-week update of the baseline data. Of course, things are evolving right now, and much remains uncertain. Indeed, the likelihood of revisiting these entity types may continue to change… and we are watching to monitor these movements. To that end, here’s where things stand as of April 6, 2020.
Two-week update on the likelihood to return to normal behaviors
As of the March 24th baseline condition when we first published these findings, IMPACTS had collected data from 2,299 US adults who profile as likely and/or historic visitors to cultural enterprise to better understand how likely they are to return to their normal, pre-coronavirus behaviors once the current gathering restrictions have been removed. The April 6th update contemplates an additional 2,007 adult respondents.
We asked people the following question: “On a scale of 1 to 100 where a response of 1 means ‘a significant decrease in my likelihood of visiting,’ a response of 50 means ‘the same’ or ‘no change in my likelihood of visiting,’ and a response of 100 means a ‘significant increase in my likelihood of visiting,’ how likely are you to visit a(n) [organization type] after the current coronavirus-related restrictions are removed and you are able to resume your normal activities?”
A response of 50 indicates no change whatsoever in intended future visitation behaviors. In essence, people responding 50 intend to engage with the indicated organization type as they would if the coronavirus never existed. Any response greater than 50 indicates a proportionately higher level of demand for a type of organization. Inversely, any response less than 50 indicates proportionately lessened demand for an organization.
This research does not necessarily mean that people prefer to visit botanic gardens more than symphonies. Instead, this research measures how likely people are to return to their own normal, pre-coronavirus behaviors. It means that people whose normal behavior is to go to symphonies report being less likely to return to the symphony after the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. It means people whose normal behavior is to go to botanic gardens may be more likely to visit than usual after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
The four key takeaways from the March 24th findings remain relevant. You can revisit them in more detail here.
- Cultural experiences that allow for a visitor’s relative freedom of movement – and particularly those that feature outdoor spaces – will likely benefit from increased demand. This includes outdoor historic sites, parks, zoos, botanic gardens, etc.
- Experiences involving enclosed spaces with minimal visitor movement – such as performing arts enterprises – indicate lessened demand.
- Entities perceptually offering tactile experiences – such as science centers – are also at risk in terms of immediately regaining their typical visitor volume.
- How susceptible people believe they are to the virus may play an important role in their attendance decisions. Symphony audiences tend to be comparatively older and thus may be more concerned about contracting the virus.
For organization types that may be currently experiencing increased likelihood of return visitation, remember that this information is promising, but it is not a promise. How much of this demand is realized by individual organizations may depend on what they do to maintain awareness during this period of business interruption.
The data update shows the potential durability of the original findings.
If you’re a regular reader familiar with IMPACTS data and methodology, then you already know that seemingly small changes in big data can have significant implications. Any number above or below the 50 value is proportionally indicative of more or less demand relative to “normal” visitation behaviors.
You’ll notice that entities for which the US public indicated an increased likelihood to visit – such as parks and aquariums – have observed their demand increase in the last two weeks. On the other hand, those that observed an expected decline in visitation likelihood – such as performing arts entities and touch-based museums – have witnessed a further erosion of near-term demand.
This is evidence of the durability of current beliefs that experiences requiring a visitor to be indoors and in stationary, close quarters with many people do not currently indicate the same levels of demand as other cultural enterprises. Indeed, the indicated demand has moved further away from indoor/close quarters experiences to organizations that allow less constricted physical movement patterns.
What if the likelihood to visit my organization type is in decline?
Data represents a moment in time, and a series of moments have the potential to indicate a trend. Our goal is to identify trends related to the public’s likelihood to visit cultural entities after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, quantify any observed movement, assess the related implications, and assess what can and should be done to respond to the trend.
We’re in a time of change. 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 these coming weeks “our Pearl Harbor” and a “9/11 moment.” That is this week’s context, but it may not be the context forever. With this in mind, we offer the data as a factual snapshot of where things stand right now in order to inform the strategic direction of cultural entities.
I offer two data-informed bright sides for these discussions:
1) There’s time to devise a strategy to mitigate and/or alleviate concerns upon reopening.
People do not intend to visit cultural organizations within the next month (and most are closed or have suspended programming anyway). This moment of pause provides organizations with the grace of perspective and the ability to collect information, diligently consider any data, gather with colleagues (virtually), determine priorities, and figure out what you can do to nip negative perceptions in the bud and alleviate concerns.
Maybe it’s offering a virtual concert subscription and integrating this into an ongoing business plan. Maybe it’s lowering the capacity of the theater for a while, considering a temporary outdoor venue, or seating people in every other chair for a period of time. For a science museum, maybe it’s highlighting permanent exhibits that aren’t reliant upon touching things. Maybe it’s a whole host of other operational changes and messages to show that you’re responsive to concerns and putting the safety of guests first.
2) Some things that will make people feel safe visiting are within an organization’s control.
While the creation and availability of a coronavirus vaccination – the primary thing that will make people feel safe – may not be within the control of a cultural institution, there are several things that are. From being sure that you have enough hand sanitizer to considering operations so that people are not crowded and waiting in long lines, to simply deciding when to reopen again…you can help yourself succeed. That’s great news! Take a look at these findings and consider how it may inform messaging and operations both right now and when you reopen.
People intend to visit cultural organizations again. Perhaps that’s the best news there is, regardless of your organization type. Current research shows that people who enjoy leaving their homes for cultural experiences intend to get back to having cultural experiences.
The challenge, it seems, may be how to make people feel safe returning to our own institutions.
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.