What will make people feel safe visiting again varies by age and income. Here’s what it means for your engagement strategy.
Switch into your favorite sweatpants, pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee, and settle in. We’ve got a lot of data updates today, featuring some additional segmentation criteria.
In this article, we’re going to share:
- An update on the distribution of demand for cultural organization types
- An update on what will make people feel safe so you can see changes (or lack thereof) over time
- What will make people feel safe revisiting exhibit and performance-based institutions cut by age
- What will make people feel safe revisiting exhibit and performance-based institutions cut by household income
This information is intended to inform your expectations, operations, procedures, messaging, and audience targeting. As is the case in every article we publish, it aims to provide national findings that are certain during these uncertain times. While we are able to shine a light on audience perceptions, you’re the experts on what this information will mean and how it should specifically apply to your individual institutions.
People intend to visit cultural organizations again… but demand for organization types is being redistributed
Let’s start with a data update on demand redistribution.
Intentions to visit cultural organizations are on the rise within the United States – particularly as some states begin to slowly reopen. We currently observe that people who enjoy cultural experiences intend to return to these experiences fully within three months – and their intentions to visit a cultural organization within one month are (currently) on the move and approaching last year’s values for this same time period. People are starting to think about and plan visits to cultural institutions again.
But this doesn’t mean that people’s intentions to visit all institutions are the same as they were pre-coronavirus. Instead, we are observing a redistribution of demand.
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?
The May 4th update contemplates an additional 2,387 respondents. You can learn more about this metric and its implications here.
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 COVID-19 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.
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 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.
Cultural experiences that allow for a visitor’s relative freedom of movement, particularly those featuring outdoor spaces, will likely benefit from increased demand upon reopening. This category of experiences includes outdoor historic sites, parks, zoos, botanic gardens, etc. This stands to reason, as people may feel confident that – especially with operational adaptations for safety – attendees may be able to adhere to social distancing practices while still enjoying these experiences.
Experiences involving enclosed spaces with minimal visitor movement – such as performing arts enterprises – indicate lessened demand. This may indicate apprehension around remaining stationary in a confined or enclosed space with many other people while the coronavirus is still spreading and no vaccine is yet available.
Entities perceptually offering tactile experiences – such as science centers – also may not immediately reengage their typical visitor volume. We are observing this trend for children’s museums as well. This may be due to the perception that fully enjoying these experiences may require touching objects and thus risk transmitting the virus.
We think it’s important to show you this data over time because it is clear that these perceptions have remained largely durable. They aren’t changing significantly over time and serve as a reasonable basis to inform strategies responsive to these perceptual challenges.
Evolving to make people feel safe is an expectation
While we see that people intend to visit cultural organizations again in the relative near term, we also observe that a sizable percentage of visitors do not feel comfortable doing so without first observing significant operational changes. More directly: People expect cultural organizations to make changes to prioritize the safety of potential visitors.
Though this expectation is observed for likely visitors to both exhibit and performance-based entities, we are observing that performance-based cultural entities may face different (and steeper) challenges compared to exhibit-based cultural entities in an immediate post-coronavirus world.
We’ve been tracking this data for several weeks, too. The April 14-May 4 update to this chart contemplates an additional 3,007 respondents. We asked, “What would make you feel safe and comfortable visiting a [insert organization type] again?”
First, we collected people’s answers to this question using a process called lexical analysis that allows us to broadly categorize responses from people using their own words. The technologies that enable this process help to minimize the risks of unintentional biases that occur when facilitators translate or summarize a respondent’s statements. These categorized responses are then used to populate the response range of a multiple-choice question. In other words, we did not internally brainstorm these options and present them in a survey based on our best guess of what people would say. The options came directly from survey respondents.
Thankfully, some of these items are within an organization’s control. While cultural entities may not be able to make a vaccine available, they can take other measures to make people feel safe. This may include limiting crowds within the facility, moving programs outdoors, or making sure hand sanitizer is available when you reopen your doors. You can read more about the implications of these findings here.
These findings underscore two points that may be critical to the survival of cultural entities upon reopening:
Ensuring that cultural entities will provide a safe – or as safe as possible – experience may be a prerequisite to motivating attendance. But there’s more to this information than immediately meets the eye.
A) It may be especially important to make efficient spending choices
By the time they reopen, cultural organizations will have been closed for weeks, if not months. Some will not survive the pandemic, and those that do will need to figure out how to move forward with potentially a whole lot of lost revenue and altered (and perhaps limited) operations. Many institutions are or will be in survival mode. This may call for even more thoughtfulness than usual, and for prioritizing more efficient approaches than were required in the past.
It’s worth noting that this chart indicates what people are saying will make them feel safe returning. They haven’t yet returned (most organizations currently aren’t open), so these items may change as people start to revisit again and they are able to assess their perceived risk on the ground. If somebody attends and doesn’t feel safe, they may not return again. Even worse, they may tell others, creating a negative impact on visitation volume because word of mouth endorsement is critical to securing attendance. Critically, if an organization doesn’t show that it cares about safety through their actions, then revisitation may not take place at all.
Though it may be financially difficult, investing in new safety measures and operations will be important to bring back audiences. Making sure leaders know how much certain safety practices matter to people is what makes this research so valuable.
B) Knowing your audiences may prove vital
Our most likely guests to return upon reopening – by far – are the people who already know and enjoy the experiences that we provide. We call them active visitors.
I’m sitting in quarantine dreaming of wandering a museum, ordering a veggie burger at a booth restaurant with my friends, and feeling the palpable energy of a live theater performance during a night out with a loved one. That’s just me. These are things that I enjoyed before COVID-19 struck and they are things that I almost desperately yearn to do again. But I, personally, am not sitting here planning my visit to a monster truck show. I’m not thinking, “I cannot wait to do a thing that never especially interested me before during a time in which leaving my home at all may be a perceived health risk to myself and others.”
(You might love monster truck shows! Right on! That’s just a random personal example. For you, it may be something completely different.)
Here’s my point: Your active visitors – those people who already know and like you – are likely to be your most important audiences upon reopening. Members and subscribers are likely to be particularly important. Active visitors are by far the most cost-effective segment to target, they are more likely to positively endorse your organization, and they are the most likely to visit in the first place because they are the kind of people who enjoy visiting cultural organizations.
(This doesn’t mean that parks, monuments, botanic gardens, zoos, and other entities where people may be especially able to adhere to social distancing practices may not also attract some inactive visitors seeking potentially safe things to do. It simply underscores that active visitors are the most efficient targets at this time.)
Many institutions possess some form of audience research conducted prior to COVID-19. Even if your audience research was not particularly robust and detailed, your entity likely knows a fair amount about its closest constituents. Exhale a bit. This is good news.
To that end, let’s provide you with some information to help your organization effectively and efficiently target its core audiences…
What will make people feel safe, sorted by household income?
It’s a fact. The propensity to visit cultural organizations generally increases by household income. This may be because educational attainment – one of the leading indicators of a person’s interest in and likelihood of visiting a cultural organization – also tends to correlate with household income.
The chart below indicates the propensity of individual market members to visit a cultural organization plotted by their respective household incomes. The y-axis shows one’s relative propensity to visit an organization ranging from 0-100, where low values indicate little propensity to visit, and high values (think >70) indicate a likely visitor. The x-axis indicates the household incomes of these same market members.
The trend line displays the general correlation between household income and propensity to visit. The greater one’s household income, the more likely one generally is to be a cultural organization attendee. This isn’t likely to surprise many cultural executives, but reminding leaders of this fact right now is arguably even more important than it was pre-pandemic. It may be uncomfortable to some, but it’s clear that wealthier individuals generally have a higher propensity to visit. Data shows they also spend more money onsite and come back more often. The funds to get back to effective programming (and hiring back staff, reviving projects, and continuing outreach) need to be regained from tighter-than-usual budgets. Efficiency is likely to be extremely important. This certainly isn’t about ignoring anyone. It’s about how to get back to welcoming everyone again.
With this in mind, take a look at what audiences say will make them feel comfortable visiting cultural organizations again segmented by household income. Exhibit-based organizations include entities such as museums, gardens, historic sites, zoos, and aquariums. Performance-based organizations included entities such as symphonies, theaters, ballets, and live music concerts.
It’s clear that performing arts organizations generally face more dramatic operational changes in order to help patrons feel safe and comfortable visiting. Interestingly, nearly a quarter of likely visitors will feel safer visiting if there’s onsite health monitoring at performing arts entities. This number is significantly lower for exhibit-based organizations, with approximately 3% of respondents – regardless of income bracket – citing health monitoring as being particularly comforting to their visitation thoughts.
Potential guests with annual household incomes greater than $100,000 are noteworthy in two areas: First, the decision to reopen in itself makes this cohort feel safer than those in lower-income brackets. Data shows that people trust cultural organizations, and these audiences may trust them most of all – at least in terms of their deciding to open at a time that is safe for the community. Consider that many cultural entities closed their doors before it was mandated with the message that they were doing their part to flatten the curve. It may stand to reason that among these audience members, in particular, the values of safety driving the decision to close may similarly drive the decision to reopen.
Second, individuals in higher household income brackets are more likely to believe that no significant change is required to prioritize safety. This is the case for both performance and exhibit-based organizations – though the percentages are not so high as to suggest the ability to simply prop open the doors without also adopting other safety-motivated measures and expect anywhere near a typical attendance volume.
In sum, higher household income visitors have the greatest intent to visit, spend more money onsite, visit more often, have a higher propensity to attend, have a higher level of trust in the decision to reopen, and are less likely to believe that significant changes are required upon reopening.
This is good news! These cultural-experience-loving people can potentially help entities build back up operations and mission-based programs over time. Here’s better news yet – you likely have already identified some of these people as members and subscribers. You probably know a lot about them!
What will make people feel safe by age?
Obviously, of course, there are many other factors that correlate with how safe people feel onsite and what precautions matter most to them. In examining the data, it becomes clear that audience opinions and perceptions also vary by age.
Like household income, there are some things we know about the age of attendees from market and audience research tracking 224 cultural organizations in the US. For instance, we know millennials make up the largest percentage of adult attendance to cultural entities. However, because they are such a large generation, they are the only age cohort entities are not engaging at representative rates.
We also know the average age of attendees varies by type of enterprise. For example, we know the average age of adult attendees to symphonies in the US is 61. The age of theatergoers is heavily dependent upon programming. The average age of adult visitors to exhibit-based organizations ranges from 36 years old for zoos and aquariums to 43 years old for botanic gardens. Unlike household income, which correlates with a greater propensity to visit across the board, different organizations have different mean ages as well as target age groups for programming. There isn’t a grand directive in these charts for all or even most cultural organizations. For these reasons and more, we present the next two charts simply to put data in your hands to inform your own operations. Understanding the nuance that exists between the range of ages that your organization serves will help you personalize responses intended to maximally comfort these audiences. It may even help inform the development of specific responses to serve specific audiences.
It may come as no surprise that individuals under the age of 34 generally cite a requirement for fewer safety measures than people aged 35 and older. However, regardless of age, safety enhancements still appear to be a wise and necessary consideration to engage all audiences.
“So is our golden target a wealthy millennial because they would require the least changes?” Yes and no. If your organization successfully cultivated wealthier millennials as regular, paying attendees and supporters, then go get ‘em! (And several entities have successfully done this.) If you didn’t successfully cultivate millennials prior to COVID-19, they may be harder to attract now. Some entities have unfortunately conflated millennials with affordable access audiences, believing that cost is the primary barrier to attendance for millennials. It isn’t. This may come back to haunt these entities, as millennials risk thinking, “Why pay to visit now when there was always a special program or discount before?” To make matters even more complicated, early research suggests millennial likely visitors are among the cultural cohorts most impacted by the economic recession right now. (This is a complex conversation worthy of its own article. We have data on this coming in the next several weeks. Stay tuned.)
There’s a lot of good news here! As we learn more about what will make people feel safe and comfortable visiting, entities can devise more efficient and effective operations and messaging. Our hope is that these data provide some certainty in this time of rapid change and guesswork.
Things may evolve as entities in the United States begin to reopen. We will continue to monitor all of these metrics and more, and we’ll keep sharing.
Be safe, everyone. We’ll be back with updated intent to visit data on Monday.
Here are the COVID-19 data insights for cultural entities that we’ve published to date. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.