Intentions to visit are recovering as people start to think about visiting cultural organizations again.
The positive trend continues!
It’s our eighth week monitoring intentions to visit cultural entities. With about half of the United States starting to loosen COVID-19 restrictions, it may come as no surprise that folks who enjoy cultural organizations plan to soon visit them again. The positive trend that we’ve observed over the last several weeks continues to strengthen as people intend to return to leisure activities relatively soon – and start to plan trips to cultural organizations.
The updated findings indicate that people intend to return to “normal” visitation patterns within three months, and intentions to visit within one month are quickly recovering.
Today we are providing a one-week update and sharing information collected through May 2nd. The research 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 eighth weekly update of this metric. For the week ranging from April 26 – May 2nd, the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 2,126 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 May 2nd
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. 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 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.
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. As it is but the first week in May, the closest end-of-month comparison from last year is still April 30, 2019. Next Monday, we’ll add May 31, 2019, so that you may get a sense of what we’d expect by the end of May during a non-pandemic time period.
A good way to think of these scalar 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.
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 dates in these charts to see how intent to visit has been trending over the last eight weeks.
Near-term intentions to visit continue to increase, with national three-month intentions currently at the same value as this time last year.
The most immediate term intentions to visit (i.e. one week) have been depressed to the point of nonexistence for several weeks. But the April 25 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 it’s true that one-week intentions remain depressed when compared to historic averages, they are on the ascent. This is no doubt a function of states moving to loosen restrictions and calls to reopen the economy, potentially coupled with people going a bit stir crazy after weeks of being stuck in their homes.
The increase in one-month intentions to visit is of particular note this week. At a value of 13, intentions to visit within one month are now only slightly depressed compared to this same time last year, which had a value of 15 for the US.
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 in terms of causing a significant interruption in their planned activities. People have squarely moved from considering “if” stay-at-home orders will end, to contemplating “when” they’ll end – and they think it will be relatively soon.
It is still possible – as it always is – that things will change. Perhaps states opening early will experience an increase in coronavirus cases, resulting in another round of restrictions. One might argue that it may not matter that people intend to leave their homes if time creeps by and people are still forced to remain indoors 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 so now. It’s beneficial for cultural institutions to remain top of mind so that 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 everything will go back to “normal” within the next couple of months?
No. They don’t.
While intentions to visit a cultural entity within three months match last year’s metrics and one-month intentions are on the ascent, we find that demand for certain organization types is being redistributed. People report that 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 that time frame, but it does not mean that they expect your operations to remain the same. Quite to the contrary. Data suggests that people may expect you to consider operational and programmatic enhancements designed to recognize a new normal. 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.
(Stay tuned. We will publish a fresh update to the “What will make you feel safe?” data this Wednesday with some interesting additional segmentation to help inform engagement strategies.)
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 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.
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. This is also why the time between the decision to attend and when one actually walks through the door (“lead days to visit”) correlates with how close someone lives to the organization.
Here’s where things stood this last Saturday, May 2nd, 2020:
This is our fifth week tracking intentions to visit for specific regions. (It’s our third 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 are currently recovering for the one-month timeframe. They have not fully recovered. This is likely due to uncertainties such as how to remain safe as restrictions are lifted, what proper precautions look like, what cultural entities will do to abide by these precautions, or even when cultural organizations will decide to reopen so that people may start visiting in the first place.
Now let’s look at three-month intentions to visit – which have recovered to the same value of this same time period last year with a national average of 21. While regional variance was significant over the last seven weeks, all monitored regions have generally rebounded to approximate similarly observed values when compared to last year. Three-month intentions are currently even slightly stronger than they were at this time last year for some regions! This may be the result of deferred/delayed demand or even a symbolic gesture of perseverance in the face of a pandemic.
This is exciting news! People indicate intentions to resume their more normal visitation patterns within three months – with the caveat that we are able to evolve operations to make them feel safe.
As always, these metrics are subject to change as conditions evolve. Intentions to visit within one month are still depressed, but they are increasing at this time. 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. 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 trips again.
It is – and continues to be – a difficult time for the cultural sector and the hardworking, passionate leaders pressing forward despite uncertainty surrounding the virus and its plans for the world. We’re at seven weeks and counting of tough choices and – in many cases – of heartbreak. From layoffs to furloughs to pay freezes to abandoning programs and plans for potentially deaccessioning artwork… many cultural executives have been forced to make difficult decisions for the sake of their institution’s survival.
An executive leading a group of major performing arts organizations joked with us on the phone last week that work calls should take place at 3:00 am because “We’re all laying awake in bed anyway.” Our laughs trailed into a shared, empathetic sigh. This has all been very hard, and it may continue to be hard for a while yet.
But data shows that the sun is coming out as the season changes. People who enjoy cultural experiences intend to have them again increasingly soon! Though things may look a bit different upon reopening, cultural entities should be able to start getting back to their important, onsite work relatively soon.
Thank you for doing what you do. Keep it up.
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.