As US states begin to reopen, intentions to visit cultural organizations are correspondingly increasing.

It was a big week for the US in terms of states taking steps to reopen, and it was a big week for intentions to visit cultural organizations again as well.

It’s our ninth week monitoring intentions to visit cultural entities. With much of the United States starting to loosen COVID-19-related stay-at-home restrictions, it may come as no surprise that folks who enjoy cultural experiences plan to soon visit them again. The positive trend we’ve observed 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. As reopening becomes more of a reality – both in areas that have lifted restrictions and those that have not – intentions to visit continue to rise as well.  

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 9th. 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. For the week ranging May 3rd – May 9th, the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 1,997 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?


Updated data on intent to visit cultural entities as of May 9th

May is a unique month from an attendance planning perspective. Unlike last week’s data report (quantified through May 2), we are now squarely into the month of May.  Thus, we’ve added data collected at the end of May 2019 for comparative context. Historically, May experiences the highest three-month intentions to visit of any other month of the calendar year. This is because the three-month time frame encompasses the near entirety of summer vacation, and the summertime tends to represent peak visitation period for cultural organizations. We observe intentions begin to rise month over month as the calendar turns to summer.

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.

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. We are currently nearing mid-May, so we’ve included data for both the end of April and the end of May 2019 for comparative context. This is what things look like during a non-pandemic year.

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 the charts to see how intent to visit has been trending in the last nine weeks.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, intentions to visit within one week have not nationally recovered. There’s still a long way to go between the value of 3 that we currently observe and the value of 7 observed in 2019 at this time period. This makes sense, as (1) many states still have shelter-in-place orders so folks aren’t likely planning visits during a time in which they know institutions will still be closed, and (2) it’s possible – if not likely – that there may be some national hesitation among some audiences to fully return to leisure activities at the first green light. But the metric holds steady for now. Whereas the most immediate term intentions to visit (i.e. one week) have been depressed to the point of nonexistence for several weeks, 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.  This is no doubt a function of states loosening restrictions and calls to reopen the economy, potentially coupled with people going a bit stir crazy after nearly two months of being stuck in their homes.

One-month intentions to visit remain on the rise. At a value of 14, intentions to visit within one month are only slightly depressed compared to this same time last year.

Three-month intentions to visit experienced a significant bump this week. Three-month intentions exceed historically observed levels for the end of April, and are nearing historically observed levels for the end of May. With a current value of 24 at nearly mid-May 2020, values are tracking similarly to last year in the three-month time frame. 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.

It is possible – as it always is – that things will change. Perhaps states opening now 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 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 organizations to carry out 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.


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.

It’s helpful to start with a look at intentions to visit by region at the end of April and the end of May 2019 for comparative context. We’re currently in between these two timeframes in 2020. To that end, we’ve put one-month and three-month intentions to visit for those time periods in 2019 on the same chart so that you may observe the usual monthly variance in a non-pandemic year. As mentioned previously, intentions to visit over the three-month time period are historically higher at the end of May than they are at the end of April as this time frame encompasses the summer months ranging from June through August.

As you can see, some regions indicate different levels of intentions to visit even during a non-pandemic time frame. 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 as of this last Saturday, May 9, 2020:

This is our sixth week tracking intentions to visit for specific regions. (It’s our fourth 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, and at 16 at the end of May. As you can see, intentions are currently recovering for the one-month time frame. 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.

Interestingly, intentions to visit within one month have been increasing for all observed regions – including those still abiding by stay-at-home mandates. Indeed, the idea of leaving the home to enjoy activities may be becoming a reality in peoples’ minds on a national level.

Now let’s look at three-month intentions to visit – which have seen a dramatic increase in the last week. 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.


Why the notable boost in three-month intentions this week?

As we’ve been touching upon throughout this article, there are three key reasons why intentions to visit within the three month time period witnessed a dramatic increase this week:

  • May historically has the highest three-month intentions to visit of the year. Remember that this value typically jumps from around 21 to 25 from the end of April to the end of May. This is because the three-month time period encompasses the near-entirety of the summertime, and those are typically well-attended months for cultural institutions. In other words, a part of this bump is likely due to the natural increase observed as people plan summertime activities. Indeed, that appears to be what many people are doing now.
  • The United States is reopening. This is likely to be the biggest factor driving the increased values this week. Last week, the US reopening moved from being an “if” condition to a “when” condition – and the answer to that question in some parts of the country is starting to become “now” or “very soon.” This reality is likely to have heightened national intentions to visit cultural institutions this week in particular.
  • People who may not feel comfortable resuming activities right away may anticipate that they’ll feel more comfortable in the coming months. While there was an increase in intentions to visit within one month, it was the three-month intentions that experienced the most meaningful increase this week. It may be that some people are making plans to visit within three months instead of within one month in order to observe post-reopening conditions.


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 generally match this time frame 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.

We’ll keep you posted and continue to dive in as entities begin to reopen and consider related strategies. As usual, we’ll see you back here on Wednesday with more data and analysis.

Please stay safe in the meantime.


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.