Intentions to visit cultural organizations continue to increase as some entities start to cautiously reopen in the United States.
The Houston Museums of Natural Science has reopened. So has the Florida Aquarium, the Bayfront gardens of the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, and other institutions – particularly in southern states. The reopenings come with new rules, just as they do for museums cautiously reopening in Europe. While a very vast majority of cultural institutions in the United States remain closed, it’s becoming clear that people in the US plan to leave their homes soon and take part in more usual activities of interest to them – even if the method in which they are enjoyed with face masks and social distancing is far from usual.
It’s our tenth week monitoring intentions to visit cultural entities. (Holy cow!) With many states starting to loosen COVID-19-related stay-at-home restrictions, it may come as no surprise that folks who enjoy cultural experiences want to have 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.
The updated findings indicate that people still intend to return to “normal” visitation patterns within three months, and intentions to visit within one month continue to quickly recover.
This information does not intend to suggest that now or any time is the “right” time to reopen. That decision will be best made based upon your own government restrictions, local tolerances and perceptions, and the needs of your constituents. Instead, this research demonstrates that people in the US are starting to plan their visits and are thinking actively about visiting cultural entities again on the whole.
Today we are providing a one-week update and sharing information collected through May 16th. 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 10th – May 16th , the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 2,228 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 16th
May is a unique month from an attendance planning perspective. 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 ten weeks.
Near-term intentions to visit continue to increase. National three-month intentions are at the same value as this time last year, and one-month intentions are currently rapidly recovering week-over-week.
Intentions to visit within one week saw an uptick, but they have not nationally recovered. After holding steady over the last three weeks, intentions to visit within one week bumped up from a value of 3 to 4. This is a meaningful step. This said, there’s a long way to go between the value of 7 in 2019 and the 4 that we currently observe. This makes sense, as (1) many states have phased reopenings of businesses and organizations, so folks aren’t likely planning visits during a time in which they know institutions will still be closed in those areas, and (2) it’s possible – if not likely – that there may be some national hesitation amongst some audiences to fully return to leisure activities at the first green light.
One-month intentions to visit remain on the rise. At a value of 15, intentions to visit within one month are now only slightly depressed compared to this same time last year.
Three-month intentions match historically observed levels for the end of May. And we’re in mid-May! 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 timeframe, 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.
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 at the end of May 2019 for comparative context.
As you can see, some regions indicate different levels of intentions to visit even during a non-pandemic timeframe. 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 16th, 2020:
This is our seventh week tracking intentions to visit for specific regions. (It’s our fifth 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. While intentions to visit within one month continue to increase week-over-week, they still have not yet fully recovered to their value for the same time last year. That said, it’s very close.
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. 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 last week?
While we covered these three items last week when we first observed the dramatic increase, it’s worth reminding folks of the reasons for this. While the increase is dramatic, it has some important situational and seasonal context:
- May historically has the highest three-month intentions to visit of the year. Remember that this value typically jumps from around 21 at the end of April to 25 at 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. 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.
- People who may not feel comfortable resuming activities right away may anticipate that they’ll feel more comfortable in the coming months. While there are relatively steady increases in intentions to visit within one month, it was the three-month intentions that experienced the most meaningful increase last week. It may be that some people are making plans to visit within three months instead of within one month – mostly to provide these audiences with time to observe the post-reopening conditions.
As always, these metrics are subject to change as conditions evolve. Intentions to return to out-of-home leisure activities are currently and consistently 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.
Time marches onward and – at least within some states – reopening is becoming a reality.
For those entities still closed for some time, this may be an important time of watching and learning. Things are still changing. We don’t know where all of the chips will fall just yet and what changes will be temporary or more permanent. Those entities opening first will confront the polarization of face masks, for instance. They’ll attempt to “normalize” visiting cultural entities again and will battle attendant challenges first. They – and their leaders – may be helpful resources to aid still-closed entities in avoiding the inevitable mistakes that the first-to-open may confront.
Rest assured, we’re continually collecting data and will continue to publish key trends we’re seeing as we learn more about challenges “on the ground.”
Whether your organization is closed, reopening, or stuck in no-man’s-land in the middle as you await more information, it remains a time for thinking and creative problem solving on all fronts.
As usual, we’ll publish an update to this data next Monday, and we’ll provide additional research this coming Wednesday. 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.