The last two weeks have shown major changes in what people report will make them feel safe visiting cultural organizations again.
For the last several weeks, we have been tracking changes in what people say will make them feel safe enough to return to museums and performing arts organizations again. The last update to this research was shared was on May 6th, 2020. IMPACTS has since re-deployed the questioning and there have been some major changes to inform strategies to make people feel safe upon reopening.
It’s time for a fresh data update!
Why does this chart include new items compared to two weeks ago? In short, it is because new items have emerged as important to potential visitors.
This data set involves a two-part methodology. First, IMPACTS deploys open-ended questions (using a process known as lexical analysis) to solicit unfiltered feedback and responses from the US public. The basic question posed to respondents was, “What would make you feel safe and comfortable visiting [organization type] again?”
Collecting open-ended responses allows us to populate a multiple-choice selection set with answers that are not limited by our own brainstorming of what we think might make people feel comfortable. Instead, the response range derives directly from members of the public. Cultural executives and staff members are insiders. We are not necessarily our audiences, and some mistakes are made when professionals forget that they do not necessarily think or behave like the average attendee.
Our first lexical analysis process commenced in March and delivered initial findings in April. Because perceptions and opinions tend to evolve as knowledge and familiarity with a situation increases, we thought it advisable to return to the market to update the lexical analysis process. After redeploying the lexical analysis data collection tools, IMPACTS used the outputs of the process to develop a new list of choices which the public considered to reaffirm the measures they feel are most responsive to their safety concerns. The research summarized in this article shares the results of the updated process and contemplates the impact of how newly adopted best practices, recent news, and other enterprise safety precautions (think: grocery stores) are influencing public perceptions.
This fresh take includes a sample of 4,109 adults in the United States. Take a look at the updated data, with new items informed by what people told us was most important to them this month:
There are several items of note in this chart – especially compared to where things stood two weeks ago. Here are nine points wherein we have additional analysis to inform strategic planning considerations:
A) Availability of a coronavirus vaccine remains the leading factor that will make people feel safe visiting again.
This may be unsurprising. Still, it’s important because it shines a light on what percentage of our audience is hoping for this vaccination in order to feel safer visiting. While this item is beyond the control of most cultural institutions, it is critical for understanding audiences and their perceptions of comfort and safety while the coronavirus continues to spread in the United States.
B) “Seeing others visit” has surpassed “government lifting restrictions” as the second most important factor.
As of May 4th, 65.2% of visitors said that the government lifting restrictions would make them feel comfortable visiting again, and 61.2% said seeing other people visit was a factor. These values have changed a bit, though they are very close. “Seeing others visit” means – in essence – that people will feel more comfortable visiting when attending is normalized again. In other words, they will feel more comfortable when visiting is simply a thing that people are doing as part of their ordinary lives.
Interestingly, the government lifting restrictions now comes in third. This may indicate a growing increase in trust in collective decisions about safety rather than the government pronouncing something as safe. With states opening at different speeds despite the prevalence of coronavirus cases, people in the US may be wondering if lifting restrictions truly indicates safety. (It remains a primary factor because the government imposing restrictions may certainly mean it is unsafe to pursue activities!)
C) Over half of likely visitors will feel safer if face coverings are required.
While this value is strong and important, it’s worth noting that it’s also relatively new. When the national emergency was initially declared, the CDC advised that masks were not only unnecessary but counterproductive. Additionally, medical-grade masks were to be reserved for medical professionals only and cloth masks were deemed ineffective. Since then, mask recommendations have evolved significantly. In fact, it may be fair to say that it fully reversed course. The idea of masks being required to take part in activities or enter locations is rather new, but it has hit the news hard and fast. Now, face coverings have emerged as a significant opportunity to enhance a visitor’s perception of feeling safe and comfortable.
But the 54.3% value for face coverings may be more complicated than it seems. Face masks have become a highly politicized issue and a meaningful number of individuals have adopted negative sentiments surrounding wearing masks. The 54.3% value is likely deflated by the extreme nature of this limited – but strongly felt – sentiment among a subset of individuals.
Keep in mind: This sentiment (like all others) is subject to change. The CDC may yet again revise its recommendations, and practices may become more standardized over time and better accepted. This will be an interesting value to continue to monitor over time.
D) The availability of treatments and therapies has risen in importance.
This may be due to news and recent talk about the promise – or lack thereof – of treatments and therapies for COVID-19. These treatments and therapies differ from remedies, cures, and vaccines. Instead, this category includes treatments to manage symptoms and potentially lessen mortality rates. There may be an interim need to learn how to coexist with the virus, and, to this end, being able to safely treat it would bring great comfort for 42.5% of respondents.
As COVID-19 potentially moves from the realm of pandemic to endemic, treatment may become all the more critical. There are many ailments – like the seasonal flu or the common cold – for which we have little cure, but we find ways to manage, treat, and safely coexist with them.
E) People trust your own decision to reopen.
This is not new, but it’s important. A noteworthy 33.8% of people said that they would feel comfortable visiting again by the very action of the cultural entity choosing to reopen. People trust cultural organizations. Many entities announced closures in the spirit of flattening the curve and keeping communities safe. People may trust that organizations will not reopen unless they are ready to do so and can safely welcome back their audiences. It may be beneficial to keep this in mind when considering your reopening strategy. Indeed, a meaningful percentage of people may believe that you wouldn’t open unless you thought the timing and your safety precautions ensured a safe-as-possible environment.
F) People expect operations to evolve to keep them safe.
This is also not new, and also important enough to note again. Despite increasing intentions to visit cultural organizations, only a quarter of likely visitors report that they would feel comfortable attending without significant changes. This means that altering operations to adjust to a new reality is an expectation. Cultural organizations are not likely to get bonus points for making their experiences as safe as possible. For about 75% of people, meaningful changes may be a baseline condition for considering a visit.
G) Exclusive hours for vulnerable populations is a consideration for cultural organization attendees.
This factor is new this month and may be borne of seeing these kinds of special hours at grocery stores and other places. It’s worth noting that many cultural organizations are places where people go to spend time with family members across generations. We are currently collecting data with these factors differentiated for exhibit-based organizations (museums, zoos, aquariums) vs. performance-based organizations (theaters, symphonies, ballets) and will publish that data on Wednesday, June 3rd. It will be interesting to see if this item is driven by a certain type of cultural experience.
H) Antibody testing is making news – and it’s making the list of what will make people feel safer.
The concept of an “immunity passport” depends on the outcomes of antibody test trials. If antibodies confer immunity, then some documentation of immunity could gain people access to experiences because they would be deemed safe from reinfection. In the updated research, 12.9% folks said things like, “Requiring documents to prove immunity” or a similar health verification concept would make them feel safer visiting. This will be an interesting value to watch, as its feasibility for cultural institutions may depend upon broader mandates or formalized processes and documents. The presence of this factor on the list – a factor that cultural entities currently opening may have difficulty putting into play – underscores the potentially changing nature of some of these factors as immunity tests, vaccinations, and therapies progress.
I) Elimination of onsite food services emerges as a response.
It is interesting that this made the list, with nearly 5% of people saying via open-ended inquiry that eliminating onsite food services would make them feel more comfortable attending. Many restaurants in America have shuttered their doors to dine-in service because these environments are cited as particularly susceptible places for the virus to spread. The topic of onsite food service may not immediately ascend to the forefront of visitors’ minds in advance of their visit – but perhaps it may resonate differently once they’re in the building and observing packs of people crowding around an open food station, for instance. (We’ll know more once entities reopen and we are able to survey what actually did make people feel safe/unsafe once they were physically in the door.) This response may come from folks who are imagining this onsite experience. For that reason, the inclusion of this factor is an important one. Though only about 5% of people mentioned this factor, it may encourage leaders to think through operations surrounding the onsite food experience.
“How does this information change for exhibit-based vs. performance-based organizations,” you ask? It’s a good question, and we’re in-market gathering additional data to inform that analysis now. As in previous updates, we suspect there will be meaningful differences in the data and the percentage of people who mention specific factors based upon the experience. We’ll share these outcomes on Wednesday, June 3rd.
What will make people feel safe will continue to be a bit of a moving target – but also a very important one to get right. There may be no way around it. As antibody tests become (hopefully) more accurate and commonplace and we better understand their implications for immunity, testing becomes more widely available, therapies develop, and coronavirus cases climb or descend, safety perceptions and practices may evolve. Government regulations may impact things. New practices may become standardized and informed by other destinations, much like how what is taking place in grocery stores and pharmacies seems to have informed standard practices thus far.
It’s a good idea to have a plan for how your organization will adjust to the new environment upon reopening. However, the chips have not landed yet – and it may be some time before they do. The most important aspect of any plan may be building in strategies to observe, analyze, and adapt on an ongoing basis. People expect cultural organizations to make changes to prioritize safety and visits are likely to depend upon it – and yet what will make people feel safest may change over time.
The good news? People do want to visit cultural entities again – when it’s safe to do so.
Let’s keep working to make sure we can give the people what they want.
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.