Findings remain stable when compared to last week, offering further evidence of the US public’s broad intent to resume more normal behaviors.
Recent news has been largely relatively positive surrounding the reopening of the economy. All fifty states have taken steps to start to reopen, and some airlines are now experiencing more flight bookings than cancellations again. These developments support an increasingly optimistic and hopeful outlook for people resuming out-of-home leisure activities.
It’s our eleventh week monitoring intentions to visit cultural entities. With all US states now 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… and, in some states, may have slowly begun to do so already.
The updated findings indicate stability from last week – with people still intending to return to historic visitation patterns within three months, and intentions to visit within one month near last year’s value.
If things are indeed stabilizing, there may be some important implications. We will cover those in this article as we go through this week’s data.
Today we are providing a one-week update and sharing information collected through May 23rd. 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 from May 17th – May 23rd, the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 1,688 adults.
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 23rd
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 timeframe 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, and we’ve included data concerning 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 eleven weeks.
Near-term intentions to visit have been increasing and are currently stable compared to last week.
Intentions to visit within one week have not nationally recovered. 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 among some audiences to fully return to leisure activities at the first green light.
One-month intentions to visit remain stable compared to last week (after observing previous weeks of gradual increases) and are only slightly depressed when compared to last year. At a value of 15, intentions to visit within one month are only slightly trailing last year’s values.
Three-month intentions match historically observed levels for the end of May. This value also has remained stable when compared to last week. 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.
If intentions are stabilizing, what might that mean for cultural entities?
The stability of this metric compared to last week and the week before – during which intentions to visit increased dramatically – may suggest that intentions to visit are beginning to stabilize. However, this potential stabilization comes as the US swiftly approaches 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus. This may indicate that intentions to visit may have become less subject to news cycles as the reality of reopening and learning to live alongside the virus sinks in.
Consider this: The second most important factor that will make people feel safe and comfortable visiting cultural organizations again is “seeing others visit.” This factor is now second only to the availability of a vaccine. Simply put, people will feel comfortable visiting again when visiting cultural organizations is just a normal thing people do – when visiting cultural organizations becomes a “normalized” behavior during the pandemic. This is critical to an understanding of the US public’s emerging confidence in finding a way to coexist with the virus.
Let’s explore this. When people observe others returning to normal activities, these stories and imagery may do three things:
A) Observing others taking part in activities may affirm reports that the US is reopening and attempting to resume more normal behaviors. Several states may still be in uncharted territory wherein entities are beginning to reopen, but people have yet to actually see people enjoying those activities again. As people see others doing these things, the reality that one need not stay home anymore (if they are so inclined) may cause them to consider leaving their homes, too.
B) These scenes and stories may grant social permission for others to behave similarly. Heretofore, the abundance of peer pressure has been in the stay-at-home camp. Over time, it may become increasingly acceptable for people to engage in leisure activities – particularly if they adopt recommended precautions.
C) It may collectively affirm that cultural entities, on the whole, are executing operational changes required to make people feel safe, helping to “normalize” visitation again. Feeling safe matters for enticing people to visit again. People report that seeing others attending will be a big factor in making them feel comfortable doing the same. 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 feel comfortable visiting a performance-based institution – such as a theater or symphony – without operational and strategic changes to prioritize safety. While intentions to visit a cultural entity within three months match last year’s metrics and one-month intentions are only slightly depressed, people expect organizations to consider operational and programmatic enhancements designed to recognize a new normal.
We also find that the demand for cultural entities is being redistributed among organization types. 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). The reasons for these changes are based upon perceptions of safety.
Seeing others visit may serve as a signal that speeds up the normalization of attendance behaviors in the more immediate near-term. A perception that an entity is overcrowded is likely to backfire. However, with restrictions to attendance volume imposed upon (or chosen by) cultural organizations as a safety precaution, the scarcity heuristic may work in some organizations’ favor. The key may be not simply “showing” that many people are in your doors, but rather that people want to be within your doors – and feel that it is safe to be there.
Two weeks is too quickly to “call” stabilization – and we’re not doing that. We will continue to watch this metric. However, at some point, intentions to visit will either fully return to historic levels and stabilize or they will not (albeit at a newly reduced, stable state). 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 reopen in the relative near term.
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. We’ve added the combined region of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas starting this week and will continue to include this region moving forward.
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 time to visit”) very often correlates with how close someone lives to the organization.
Here’s where things stood this last Saturday, May 23rd, 2020:
Are you wondering how intentions to visit have changed for these regions during the course of the pandemic thus far? Let’s look at the one-month intentions to visit we’ve been tracking first. Intentions to visit within one month 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 one’s home to enjoy activities may be becoming a reality in peoples’ minds on both a regional and collectively national level.
Now let’s look at three-month intentions to visit. People indicate an intent 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 return to out-of-home leisure activities within the next couple of months are currently high. Whether the virus and our reaction to it will allow for these intentions to be actualized still remains to be seen. For now, though, people who enjoy visiting cultural organizations are starting to plan their trips again.
As usual, we’ll publish an update to this data next Monday, and we’ll provide dive into key factors to inform more immediate near-term intentions to visit on Wednesday.
In the meantime, remember that the virus can be asymptomatic, so let’s be kind and do our best to help others and ourselves stay safe, okay?
We’ll see you on Wednesday with more data.
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.