While the public’s intentions to visit cultural entities is not as high as some might hope, values may be stabilizing for now. This is helpful for planning purposes.
It’s often said of the stock market that while analysts and traders can accept a downturn, it’s uncertainty that really confounds and frustrates these experts. The cultural sector is similar: We can adjust to reasonably predictable cycles – upturns and downturns, peak seasons and off-seasons – but our biggest challenge is volatility. And these past few months have been volatile.
Today’s findings may begin to suggest an emerging sense of stability. The numbers are not optimal: Near-term intentions to visit haven’t yet fully recovered, and it appears as though they may be unlikely to recover until most cultural enterprises have reopened. But they may be evidence of a measure of stability that has been elusive before now.
We know that we have a near-term need to do whatever we can to bridge the gap to a more normal future. The most recent data suggests that this bridge will have to span somewhere between one and three months. We also have a sense of what measures we should consider – such as what will help make people feel safe and comfortable – to help pave this pathway to more normal times.
Today we are providing a one-week update and sharing information collected through June 13th. 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 June 7–June 13, the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 1,904 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 June 13th
We are squarely into June now, so we’ll be comparing this week’s values to the end of June 2019. While intentions to visit within three months historically first peak in May due to their encompassing the summertime months, one-month intentions tend to peak in June.
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 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 has been cut weekly since the announcement of the national emergency on March 13th. This is what things look like during a non-pandemic year:
Now let’s take a look at 2020. The chart was getting a bit crowded and difficult to read, as we’ve been tracking this metric for 14 weeks now. To that end, we’ve included the last 4 week’s metrics and then removed every other week. The trendlines are still clearly visible, and we wanted to be a bit kinder to your eyeballs.
Near-term intentions to visit (within one week and within one month) are notably depressed compared to last year – and this may remain the case until most entities have reopened and/or we have a better handle on the coronavirus.
One-week intentions to visit cultural organizations remain depressed. We’re still dealing with COVID-19 and – though gradually starting to reopen – most cultural entities remain closed. One-week intentions to visit took a notable dip across the United States on May 23rd when protests first broke out to stand up for racial injustice. The curfews, the National Guard on the streets, road closures and drawn bridges, looting alongside peaceful protests, and violence carried out by police officers resulted in a dip in intentions to venture to cultural entities (many of which are in cities) for leisure purposes. This week, one-week intentions to visit recovered to pre-protest levels, but the value still dramatically lags behind historical values for this time of year. The fact that this number did not recover to a higher value (especially given that intentions traditionally increase in June) may indicate that these numbers may remain depressed until cultural entities mostly reopen, and/or until COVID-19 numbers decline more dramatically across the nation. Rest assured, we’re watching this number.
One-month intentions lag behind 2019 values. In these metrics, an increase or decrease of even one value is significant. There is a notable delta between the value of 15 that we see in one-month intentions to visit right now and the value of 18 that we historically see in June. These depressed numbers may demonstrate some unease regarding COVID-19 spread, as well as uncertainty as to when cultural entities will reopen in some states.
Three-month and six-month intentions remain stable. We continue to interpret this to be an encouraging forecast. Despite uncertainties, people intend to return to the cultural experiences that they enjoy. People intend to visit cultural organizations at more usual levels again within the next few months. However, it’s important to keep in mind that demand for certain cultural experiences is being redistributed, and making people feel safe may be a prerequisite for securing a visit.
Updated variance by region
In the charts below, we’ve shared data for many of the most populated geographic areas in the United States. 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 June 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.
Here’s where things stood this last Saturday, June 13th, 2020:
Intentions to visit within one month have not fully recovered to their value from last year.
We’ve been tracking one-month and three-month changes by region for eleven weeks and this chart was also getting rather cluttered. To that end, we’re showing the last four weeks, and then every other week before that. This still provides a sense of the trend, though please note that the data increments shown are not even. (Still, we’re aware that it’s not very kind to one’s eyesight. Our goal is to get the data in your hands and illustrate the trends.)
We are not forgetting bars for Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas in the charts below! We simply started to publish the data for this region on May 23rd.
Indeed, we may have entered a period of relative stability. Though the numbers are not as high as one might like, this stability may be encouraging for planning purposes.
This looks okay – but remember one-month intentions to visit usually increase by the end of May and June. These intentions did not nationally recover for the end of May (historically 16), and they’ve got some growing to do to recover to last year’s national values for the end of June (historically 18).
Now let’s look at three-month intentions to visit. Good news! 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. These numbers are tracking nicely alongside historic levels!
One-week intentions to visit by region
While regional one-week intentions to visit cultural organizations can provide signals to inform expectations, it’s the one-week intention to visit your own organization that matters most. From a coronavirus-related perspective, this includes considerations unique to your organization type, local perceptions and tolerances related to COVID-19, your organization’s messaging during its closure, and your own audiences’ sensitivities to risk. Here’s a dive into what you should consider.
Again, however, the regional data can provide directional insight. The chart below compares intentions to visit cultural organizations as of June 30, 2019, and this last Saturday, June 13, 2020. You’ll note that one-week intentions to visit have not recovered – even in the states that have started to reopen their cultural institutions. On the whole and even for individual regions, these numbers are low. People in the US generally do not intend to visit cultural organizations this week.
Now let’s compare this week’s one-week intentions to visit to the last three. As you can see, one-week intentions remain significantly depressed compared to this time last year – even in states that are further along in reopening.
In periods of crisis, there is comfort in the repeatable – even if the findings being repeated aren’t necessarily rose-colored.
Perhaps this is a bit like packing a suitcase to go on vacation. If the weather forecast ranges from hot and humid to cold and damp and every degree in between, then you’re going to need a very big suitcase and may be unsure what to expect! However, even if you know that it’s going to drizzle every day at your destination, then at least you know how to prepare to optimize your experience. That’s where we are today – we may have the intent to visit information that we need to successfully coexist with the current conditions while we look forward to sunnier days in the not-too-distant future.
As always, these metrics are subject to change as conditions evolve. Intentions to return to out-of-home leisure activities within the next few months are currently still high.
We’ll keep you posted.
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.