Are people feeling more likely to visit performing arts entities now that some cities are reopening? Has the national sentiment changed regarding mandatory face coverings?
It’s time for a big data update.
Pour a fresh cup of coffee, settle into your chair (with an optional pet on your lap if you’re still working from home), and get excited to nerd out. We have five new data updates to share with you today to help inform expectations, operations, procedures, messaging, and audience targeting surrounding cultural organization reopenings in the United States.
Our last update to these metrics as a group was last month on May 6th, 2020. Let’s take a look at where things stand now and how they’ve changed in the last month. In this article, we’re going to cover updates related to:
- Redistribution of demand for cultural organization types
- 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 to inform operations
- What will make people feel safe revisiting cultural organizations by age and household income
This article provides high-confidence, contemporary, national findings. 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.
Do you have that cup of coffee ready? Great. Let’s dive in.
Redistribution of demand for organization types
Let’s start with an update on a metric we’ve been tracking for several weeks and note changes in the last month.
Until two weeks ago, intentions to visit cultural organizations had been on a rather consistent rise within the United States as cities began to reopen and people grew eager to finally leave their homes again. Circumstances surrounding demonstrations against racism have resulted in currently stalled near-term intentions to visit cultural organizations. The confluence of things like police violence, the presence of the National Guard, road closures, and curfews resulted in a decline in intentions to pursue leisure activities in cities and areas where protests may be taking place. We’re watching this metric.
On a larger scale, the good news is that people intend to fully return to their more usual attendance behaviors surrounding these experiences within three months, and intentions to visit within one month are still worthy of attention. Indeed, people intend to visit cultural organizations 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 June 8th update contemplates an additional 2,452 adult respondents.
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 for an organization.
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 – and particularly those that involve outdoor spaces – will benefit from increased demand upon reopening. This category of experiences includes outdoor historic sites, parks, zoos, botanic gardens, and so on. People may feel confident that attendees may be able to adhere to social distancing practices while still enjoying these experiences, especially with operational adaptations for safety.
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.
These perceptions have remained largely durable. That is, they aren’t changing significantly over time, and serve as a reasonable basis to inform strategies that are responsive to these perceptual challenges.
The rise in public beaches and parks? That’s likely based on three factors. (1) The first is seasonality. People are more likely to say they’ll revisit a public beach in June than they were in March. (2) The second reason for this bump may be the behavior becoming normalized over time. We’ve been seeing images of people lying on beaches despite the coronavirus for months in some states that had lesser restrictions. The same may be true for public parks. (3) The third factor may be simple antsiness and pent-up energy combined with the safety benefit of being outdoors. We know that being outdoors is perceived to be less risky than indoor activities for contracting the coronavirus. Doctors and related experts back up this finding as well.
Changes in what will make people feel safe
While we see that people intend to visit cultural organizations again at more usual values in the coming months, 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.
We asked people, “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.
We saw several new factors come into play starting in the month of May. Not only did mandatory face coverings make the list, but it shot to near the top of it. Consider that the conversation about requiring masks picked up and began to become more definitive in May. Prior to that, there was mixed messaging about the notion of wearing face coverings, including encouragement not to wear them and save them for doctors. Following that were conversations about the efficacy of cloth masks (and the ensuing CDC thumbs-up that cloth masks were fine) and confusing signals from a president who refuses to abide by his own administration’s recommendations.
In May, this conversation solidified – alongside other factors that may have been influenced by their presence in the news. This includes the addition of treatments and therapies as a factor that will make people feel safe (perhaps as a response to discussions of hydroxychloroquine and other potential therapies). Immunity passports emerged as antibody tests were making headlines. You can read more about these factors and what they mean here.
Interestingly, we’ve seen “government lifting travel, movement, access restrictions” as an indicator of a safe condition move down the list in the last several weeks. Meanwhile, “seeing others visit” has grown stronger. This may indicate that people are increasingly looking to others as an indicator of what may be a safe activity and what may not be. Presumably, this means that as visiting cultural organizations becomes a more normalized behavior – and people can observe others doing it safely and happily – perceptions of safety may increase.
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 requiring and providing face coverings, for instance.
A shrinking delta between safety measures for exhibit-based and performance-based entities
We have a bit of good news for performing arts organizations. And it’s about time! When we first started tracking the factors people said would make them feel safe, there was a bigger difference between those stated for exhibit-based organizations (such as museums, zoos, aquariums, historic sites, etc.) and performance-based organizations (such as theaters, symphonies, ballets, etc.). In a nutshell, requirements for change were more dramatic than they are today.
There is still a difference, of course, but the gap is not so wide as before.
For instance, there was an 11.9% gap between how important it was to know cleaning procedures for exhibit compared to performance-based institutions in mid-April. Now it’s a 4.9% difference. Interestingly, 8.1% more people say that no significant changes are required for a performing arts experience now than they did in mid-April. (Of course, with only 22.8% of respondents saying no significant changes are necessary, it’s still well worth making meaningful changes to make people safe!)
This movement toward a middle ground isn’t wholly surprising as states reopen. We’re learning to live – or at least trying to live – alongside the virus. Safety procedures are becoming more expected and standardized, and people are starting to resume activities. With it, some fears surrounding certain conditions may be subsiding a bit.
Does this slight phenomenon excuse complacency in evolving operations to meet visitors’ safety expectations? It sure doesn’t! People expect your organization to carry out major changes to make people safe. Only 35% of exhibit-based visitors and 22.8% of performing arts patrons feel otherwise.
Will the values of these factors change with a resurgence of COVID-19? Maybe. We’ll have to see if and how that resurgence happens, and the conditions surrounding it.
Importance of spending efficiently and understanding audiences
Ensuring that cultural entities will provide a safe – or as safe as possible – experience may be a prerequisite to motivating attendance for most people.
A) Making efficient spending choices matters
At this point, most cultural organizations have been closed for weeks, if not months. Some will not survive the pandemic. Those that do will need to figure out how to move forward with potentially a whole lot of lost revenue. Many institutions are or will be in survival mode. This may call for even more thoughtfulness than usual, and for prioritizing some more efficient approaches than were required in the past.
While investing in new safety measures and operations may be important, many institutions may not have the ability to simply “throw money at it.” Making sure leaders know how much certain safety practices matter to people is what makes this data so valuable.
B) Understanding audiences will prove vital
Our most likely guests to return to our organizations upon reopening – by far – are the people who already know and enjoy the experiences that we provide. Your active visitors – those people who already know and like you – are likely to be your most important audiences upon reopening. Active visitors are by far the most cost-effective segment to target, they are more likely to positively endorse your organization, and they are most likely to visit in the first place because they are the kind of people who enjoy visiting cultural organizations. Members and subscribers are likely to be particularly important.
To that end, let’s provide you with some information to help your organization effectively and efficiently target its core audiences: a look at factors surrounding what will make people feel safe cut by household income and age.
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 visitors and non-visitors alike trust cultural organizations, and it may be that these higher-income audiences trust them most of all – or 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. It’s possible that higher household income individuals are less concerned about healthcare costs than others, causing a bit less concern. Of course, greater trust levels in safety upon reopening without significant changes may also prove to be a function of familiarity. This distinction by household income may prove less important as entities more representatively welcome newer audiences so that they all may gain a similar comfort with these organizations.
If your organization is carrying out initiatives for income-qualified audiences, this research may also come in handy for messaging and programming.
Obviously, 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 a bit by age. Though they may vary less than you anticipated in some cases!
The average age of attendees varies by type of enterprise. For example, we know that 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. Different organizations have different mean ages as well as target age groups for programming as well. For these reasons and more, we present the next chart simply to put data in your hands to inform your own unique operations.
It may come as no surprise that individuals under the age of 34 generally cite fewer safety measure requirements than do more senior persons. Regardless of age, though, safety enhancements still appear to be a wise and necessary consideration to engage all audiences.
Understanding what people think will make them feel safe and comfortable visiting helps entities devise more efficient and effective operations and messaging for reopening. We’re also gathering data from those who have begun to visit the organizations reopening across the US, and we hope to report back on those findings in the coming months as more entities open their doors again.
As usual, these factors are subject to change as conditions evolve.
We’ll continue to keep you posted.
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.