Intentions to visit continue to remain depressed across the United States. With the lack of national health policies and various stages of reopening, regions are currently impacted differently by case count surges and policy reactions.
On Wednesday, The New York Times writer Donald G. McNeil Jr. quoted Dr. Emily Landon, a coronavirus expert at the University of Chicago medical school in an article: “You know the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance? …I think the American people are in all five of them — but different parts of the country are in different stages.”
With varying infection rates, stages of reopening, political incentives, and guidance (or lack thereof), there’s no doubt about it: Confounding factors are impacting different regions of the US.
There’s also no doubt that intentions to visit cultural organizations within one-week and one-month timeframes remain depressed compared to historic levels on a national scale.
Nationally, one-week, one-month, and three-month metrics remain unchanged compared to last week. However, we’re seeing increases and decreases by region. This suggests that cultural entities may recover on different timelines in the long term, depending upon the behavioral norms that prevail in that region and how swiftly the virus can be controlled.
Today we are providing a one-week update and sharing information collected through July 18, 2020. 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 July 12-18, the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 1,781 adults.
Here’s where things stand as of this week:
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?
Updated national data on intent to visit cultural entities as of July 18th
As we’ve passed the midpoint of July, we’ll now compare this week’s values to July 31, 2019 for context, and flip the calendar from the June 30, 2019 values we’ve been using the last two weeks.
Historically, intentions to visit cultural organizations decrease slightly from the end of June to the end of July. This happens due to seasonality. Cultural organizations generally have the greatest volume of visitation in the summertime months. So, when we ask someone at the end of June when they plan to visit and they say within the next month or three months, they’re generally still talking about visits through the end of the summertime. By the end of July, three-month intentions to visit are squarely in the fall season, when fewer people generally visit cultural organizations.
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.
This is what things look like during a non-pandemic year:
Now let’s take a look at 2020. We’ve been tracking this metric for 19 weeks now and it’s been getting busy and difficult to read. To that end, we’ve updated our 2020 charts to show the data for the end of each month (similar to the 2019 data), as well as the most recent data cut that takes place every Saturday. In this case, the data pull took place at the end of the day on Saturday, July 18th.
Nationally, near-term intentions to visit are still notably depressed compared to last year, but three-month intentions match last year’s values.
One-week intentions to visit cultural organizations remain depressed. Intentions to visit cultural organizations within one week remained unchanged on a national level compared to last week, and are at levels last observed at the end of May. This is not good news, as – depending on the region – more cultural organizations are open to the public now than were open in May. This means that as many people are now actively planning visits to cultural organizations within one week as they were at a time when most entities were closed and visiting was not even possible, in some areas.
One-month intentions lag behind 2019 values. As previously mentioned, one-month intentions to visit decrease slightly in July due to seasonality every year. This said, there is a notable delta between the value of 15 that we see in one-month intentions to visit right now and the historical value of 17 that we historically see around this time. On the whole, these depressed numbers may demonstrate some unease regarding COVID-19 prevalence, as well as uncertainty as to when cultural entities will reopen in some states.
Three-month intentions are nationally aligned with last year. Taking the seasonal dip that happens in July into account, this value matches historic levels. That’s great news – especially because we were a bit concerned about this last week. It means that people generally intend to return to their more usual visitation patterns for this time of year within three months.
Remember that this is what people plan to do in the future given the current condition. Of course, things may change to make these intentions unable to be realized. We may still not have the virus under control in three months. We may have different hot spots. Some entities may have to re…
Nope. Let’s not go there.
These three-month findings indicate good news! It means that people are actively planning to reengage with cultural organizations at more usual levels within three months. Note that demand for cultural entity types is being redistributed toward outdoor or socially distanced experiences, and away from indoor experiences that do not allow for freedom of movement.
How might schools being online or in-person impact intentions to visit cultural entities?
Interestingly, whether or not schools are physically in or out of session may impact attendance seasonality. Traditionally, attendance increases over the summer when children are out of school and many people take vacations. If schools do not restart in person, it raises questions about whether families will be taking children to museums throughout the year at higher rates.
As of now, intentions to visit are depressed within the one-month duration – even beyond the dip we naturally see due to seasonality. This means that people are not necessarily planning a homeschooling rush to museums at the moment. However, as schools make their respective decisions about if, when, and how classes will commence in the fall, we may see early indicators of attendance that could buck the trend of traditional seasonality, depending on what happens.
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.
Here are intentions to visit by region at the end of July 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, July 18th, 2020:
Let’s break this down…
Intentions to visit in one week by region
While regional one-week intentions to visit cultural organizations can provide signals to inform expectations, it’s the one-week intent 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.
The chart below compares intentions to visit cultural organizations as of July 31, 2019, and this last Saturday, July 18, 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 – especially in states most impacted by increased coronavirus cases.
States with increasing coronavirus cases tend to have the lowest intentions to visit cultural institutions. Interestingly, many of these are states that have reopened! Despite being open, intentions to visit in some states experiencing coronavirus surges are even lower than states that still remain largely closed and visiting isn’t even possible for many institutions! This shines a powerful light on concerns surrounding the coronavirus and related visitor apprehension.
Intentions to visit in one-month by region
Though much closer to historic values than one-week values, one-month intentions to visit still have not recovered for any region. Remember, one-month intentions to visit nationally decrease slightly from a value of 18 at the end of June to a value of 17 by the end of July.
In the chart below, we’re showing the data for this week, last week, and then every other prior week. Please note that we added Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas region to the chart later than the others.
It’s clear that coronavirus prevalence is an important factor in these numbers, with those experiencing the biggest surges most negatively impacted. However, there are other factors at play that come with the upcoming changing of the seasons in some areas and thus contribute to the dip in intentions to visit. We saw a notable decrease in one-month intentions to visit cultural organizations in the region composed of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. This region may also be impacted by seasonal residents focusing on other activities before departing from their summer homes, for example.
Intentions to visit in three months by region
Now let’s look at three-month intentions to visit. People generally indicate intent to resume their more normal visitation patterns within three months from a national standpoint, with the caveat that we are able to evolve operations to make them feel safe. Some individual regions are close to historic levels, but are not quite there yet!
On the whole, there remains a general correlation between regional increased transmission of the virus and decreased intentions to visit. This may be the emerging norm in light of the lack of national health measures or policies surrounding the spread of the coronavirus. State and regional nuances have become increasingly important for framing cultural organizations’ expectations.
We’ll see you here on Wednesday with more data and analysis.
Be safe in the meantime.
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.