Intentions to visit cultural entities are increasing, and this positive trend is currently being observed across all monitored regions.
It’s our sixth week monitoring intentions to visit cultural entities, and a clear trend has emerged over this time frame. While things may still change, we are seeing people start to think about resuming their more typical leisure behaviors again.
Here’s where things stand nationally, with several of the more populated areas in the United States segmented to quantify regional nuance concerning near-term visitation behaviors: It’s been another big week. Coronavirus deaths in the United States have doubled since this time last week to over 40,000 (which doubled from 10,000 to 20,000 the week before). Another 5.2 million more people filed for unemployment and governors around the nation are pushing for more federal support and testing. People have begun to protest stay-at-home orders, and the White House suggested a three-phase plan for states reopening the economy.
Last week, the trend became clear that people are increasingly preparing to return to more usual attendance behaviors as time marches onward. So, how have intentions to visit cultural institutions changed since last week?
Intentions to visit cultural organizations are currently growing stronger, and these increases are being generally observed across all monitored regions of the United States.
Today we are providing a one-week update and sharing information collected through April 18th. 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 sixth weekly update of this metric. For the week ranging from April 12-18, the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 1,978 adults.
We’ll show you the national data update and then dive into regional segments.
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 18th
As usual, let’s start with the data for 2019 for comparative context – especially because April historically marks an ascent in observed intentions to visit cultural institutions as people begin to plan summer vacation and related activities. 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.
The upticks from January to February and then in March and in 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. Generally speaking, we historically observe relative near-term intentions to visit (i.e. less than six months) increase as the calendar turns from March to April as people start earnestly making plans for their summer vacations. Related, the summer months often represent the peak period of visitation for many cultural organizations.
A good way to think of these values is as a measure of the relative certainty of an intended behavior being actualized. Thus, a value of “1” would indicate no intentions whatsoever to visit an organization, whereas a reported value of “100” would suggest that the respondent was essentially waiting in line for the doors to open.
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 six weeks.
Intentions to visit cultural entities within the next month and three months have again increased compared to the week prior. We observe a notable increase in the one-month intent to visit metric, and, while this metric remains depressed when compared to the same approximate time period last year, it has reliably increased during the course of the past three weeks.
The same is true for intentions to visit within three months. At a currently observed value of 20, the three-month intent to visit metric is only slightly depressed compared to the end of April 2019! This finding again affirms the expected duration of significant coronavirus-related business interruption as falling within a three month period.
This remains a promising trendline. Time is marching on, and it’s bringing with it increasing near-term intentions to leave the home to have cultural experiences (again). 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.
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.
Whether the public is right or wrong about all of this remains to be seen. It may not matter that people intend to leave their homes if people are still forced to remain inside of them by government mandate. But these findings are still incredibly informative for strategic operations. If people intend to visit, then they are planning their visit. It’s beneficial for cultural institutions to remain top of mind so these visits may be realized, in case they do have the opportunity to reopen in this time period.
Do these findings mean things will go back to “normal” within three months?
No. Not necessarily.
While intentions to visit a cultural entity within three months nearly match last year’s metrics, research shows that demand is being redistributed between cultural organizations. People report they are more likely to visit organizations that allow for freedom of movement (such as an art museum) compared to those in confined spaces (such as a symphony).
These findings mean that people intend to have cultural experiences again within three months, but it does not mean that they expect your operations to remain the same. Quite the contrary – they may expect you to make changes to operations and programming. Only one in four people feel comfortable attending an exhibit-based cultural institution – such as a museum, aquarium, or historic site – without changes that prioritize guest safety. Only about one in seven feels comfortable visiting a performance-based institution – such as a theater or symphony – without operational and strategic changes to prioritize safety.
Updated variance by region
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is nuance and variance by regional markets. America is a complex and diverse place – it stands to reason that similar complexities are represented in the findings. This is our third week tracking intentions to visit for specific regions.
In the charts below, we’ve shared data for many 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 United States. Thus, as a function of representative data collection, we currently have collected more samples from more populated states and regions.
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, for instance. 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: North Carolina holds different perceptions than its neighboring states. For this reason, we separated it out.
This week, we’ve collected sufficient responses from residents in several southwest and western states to further identify a new regional cohort comprising Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. Again, this region is not only bound by broad geographic proximity, but the data also indicate significant attitudinal similarities among respondents. Thus, for the purposes of this analysis, we are indicating this region as a unique geographic cluster. Does this mean that everyone in these states (or any other) has the exact same attitudes and opinions? No. Of course not. But the data indicates sufficient commonality of opinion to identify this region as unique.
Again, it’s helpful to start with a look at intentions to visit by region on April 30th, 2019 for comparative context.
As you can see, some states indicate different levels of intentions to visit even during a non-pandemic time-period. This makes sense. Not every region has equal access and/or interest in cultural organizations. We frequently observe that regions with greater densities – both in terms of population and cultural enterprise – have higher near-term intentions to visit a cultural organization. This is logical, as it takes a lot less time to plan a visit to an organization across the street than one that is a road trip or airplane flight away.
Here’s where things stood this last Saturday, April 18th, 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 the timing of its associated restrictions.
Here’s the change since last week in intentions to visit by contemplated region for both the one-month and three-month visitation horizons:
This marks the third week tracking these regions (with the exception of the newest additions). With a third data point, it’s clear there’s generally a shared trendline within the United States, despite regional variance.
Intentions to visit within one month and within three months has increased across the board. This may have to do with reports of flattening the curve and talk of potentially reopening the economy.
The exception to this steady increase are the states of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, which related analysis suggests may be a function of the public’s awareness of and response to largely local factors. For example, during the assessment period ending on April 4, residents of the states of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina were not subject to stay-at-home orders. This may have ostensibly lessened sense of public concern in the heightened intentions to visit when compared to the US average. However, as stay-at-home orders were issued to the residents of these same states the following week, public attitudes started to conform to the more broadly observed national averages. This past week, as these same states announced plans (and in some cases actually changed practices by relaxing restrictions on the public’s access to beaches and parks), intentions to visit again increased.
Of course, these metrics are subject to change as the actualities and perceptions of the “on the ground” condition evolves.
Like kids in school counting the classes until their final test of the semester is over, it may be that we’re nationally looking forward to the summertime…
For the moment, three-month intentions to visit have nearly returned to their 2019 values. In terms of one-month intentions, it is unlikely these values will fully recover until enterprise reopens. (It is challenging for people to make near-term plans when businesses are closed.) However, the observed increase in the near-term intentions strongly suggests the public’s collective expectations are starting to shift toward re-opening and re-engaging with cultural enterprise.
The good news is that the trend appears durable – it has been on the steady ascent over the past month. Intentions to return to out-of-home leisure activities are currently strengthening. Whether the virus and our reaction to it will allow for these intentions to be realized still remains to be seen. For now, though, people who enjoy visiting cultural organizations are starting to plan their summer trips again.
Here comes the sun?
We’ll keep you posted.
Stay safe, everyone. As usual, we’ll see you back here on Wednesday with more data and analysis.
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.