People are starting to think about visiting cultural organizations again.

Welcome to our seventh week monitoring intentions to visit cultural entities. Within the last few weeks, we’ve observed a particularly promising trend – people are starting to think about resuming their more typical leisure behaviors again. This article shows 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 surpassed 50,000, and the number of confirmed cases is quickly nearing one million. Several states are starting to ease social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions, with many orders expiring later this week on April 30th. The first beaches and state parks reopened last week, another 4.4 million people filed for unemployment, and the US president apparently struggled with mixed messages about the benefits of ingesting disinfectants to stave off the virus.

So how have intentions to visit cultural institutions changed since last week? As it turns out, talk about cities slowly reopening appears to be igniting plans to visit among those likely to attend cultural organizations.

The updated findings indicate – in the most compelling terms quantified to date – that the US public anticipates soon resuming their more “normal” behaviors attending visitor-serving cultural enterprises.

(…Provided we make them aware of additional measures to keep them safe onsite, which research shows may be a given expectation.)

Today we are providing a one-week update and sharing information collected through April 25th. 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 fifth weekly update of this metric.  For the week ranging from April 19-25, the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 2,112 adults.

As usual, 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?

Is it changing at all?


Updated data on intent to visit cultural entities as of April 25th

As usual, let’s start with the data for 2019 for comparative context – especially because April historically marks an increase in observed intention 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. 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 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. On a related note, 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 in the 2019 chart. 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 (that we knew of at the time) 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 seven weeks.

Near-term intentions to visit continue to increase, with national three-month intentions currently at the same value as this time last year.

Whereas the most immediate term intentions to visit (one week) have been depressed to the point of nonexistence for the past six weeks, this most recent assessment period saw the one-week intent to visit metric increase for the first time since a national emergency was declared on March 13.  While one-week intentions remain depressed when compared to the more recently observed historic averages, they are on the ascent. This is no doubt a function of the increasing calls to reopen the economy, potentially coupled with people going a bit stir crazy after several weeks being stuck in their homes.

The increase in the US public’s intentions to reactivate their leisure behaviors is even more evident in the one-month intent to visit metric – which, for the third consecutive week, has again increased and is now at two-thirds of its historically observed level.

At a currently observed value of 21, three-month intentions to visit are consistent with historically observed levels for the end of April. (Phew!) Collectively, this information affirms the belief that the public continues to view the coronavirus as having a finite duration of causing a significant interruption in their planned activities. We may have moved from considering “if” stay-at-home orders will end, to contemplating “when” they’ll end – and what we’ll get back to doing when they do.

Whether the public is right or wrong about all of this remains to be seen. One might argue that it may not matter that people intend to leave their homes if time creeps on and 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 – and people are starting to do this now. It’s beneficial for cultural institutions to remain top of mind so these visits may be realized, particularly in the event that organizations do start to reopen in the relative near-term.


Do these findings mean that things will go back to “normal” within three months?

No. Not necessarily.

While intentions to visit a cultural entity within three months match last year’s metrics, research shows that that demand is being redistributed. People report that they are more likely to visit organizations that allow for freedom of movement (such as an art museum or zoo) compared to those in stationary, confined spaces (such as a symphony).

We’ll repeat this for good measure: These findings mean that people intend to start to have cultural experiences again within the coming months, but it does not mean that they expect operations to remain exactly the same. It doesn’t appear that institutions will get “bonus points” for altering operations to make people feel safe. Increasing intentions to visit – coupled with the small percentage of likely attendees willing to visit without changes – implies that people expect organizations to carry out operational and programming enhancements designed to recognize a likely new normal. Only one in four people currently 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

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 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.

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 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.  This is also why the time between the decision to attend and when one actually walks through the door (“lead time to visit”) correlates with how close someone lives to the organization.

Here’s where things stood this last Saturday, April 25th, 2020:


This is our fourth week tracking intentions to visit for most regions. This is our second week publishing data for the region of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. It’s clear that there’s generally a shared trendline within the United States, despite regional variance.

Let’s look at the one-month intentions to visit that we’ve been tracking first. Remember that in April 2019, one-month intentions to visit were at a national average of 15. As you can see, intentions haven’t yet recovered for the one-month timeframe – even in regions that had started reopening this week. This may be due to uncertainty in the immediate near-term as phased reopenings take place in these regions.


Now let’s look at three-month intentions to visit – which have recovered to the same value as this same time period last year with a national average of 21. While regional variance was significant over the last six weeks, all monitored regions have generally rebounded to approximate similar values when compared to last year.

This is exciting news!

As always, these metrics are subject to change as actualities and perceptions evolve. Intentions to visit within one month are still depressed, but they are increasing. The increase over time is good news for cultural institutions eager to reopen, and intentions to visit within three months currently matches this timeframe last year.

More good news? The trend appears durable, as 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.

We’ll continue to 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.