The findings are clear: Mandatory masks are a good idea for cultural entities.
Masks, herd immunity, six feet, shelter-in-place…
These terms have a completely different meaning for many of us now than they did six months ago.
Perceptions surrounding safety and the coronavirus sometimes seem like they are shifting as rapidly as US hotspots. After months of saying otherwise, Donald Trump tweeted just yesterday that masks are patriotic. Also yesterday, the US reported more than 1,000 deaths in one day for the first time since early June. Several states are pausing their reopening.
Cultural organizations – from theaters to museums to aquariums – often have missions to educate and inspire communities. They exist to help us learn, grow, convene, conserve, empathize, understand, communicate, and move forward. But cultural organizations have an added charge in a pandemic-impacted world: Do all this… while keeping people safe.
To that end, it’s time for a data update on three metrics that we’ve been tracking since the pandemic started:
- To which organizations do people plan to return?
- What will make people feel safe attending?
- How important are mandatory mask requirements?
Here’s how things have changed, and what your organization needs to know:
To which organizations do people plan to return?
Over the last few months, we’ve observed ebbs and flows in people making future plans to visit cultural organizations. These ebbs and flows have been impacted by closures, surges of infection, and protests against racial injustice. Throughout it all (thus far), long-term intentions to visit cultural organizations have remained largely stable at near-historic levels. Though people are (and have been) adjusting their schedules based upon happenings in the immediate near term, they still plan to return to more normal visitation patterns in three months.
But this doesn’t mean that people’s intentions to visit all institutions are the same as they were pre-coronavirus. Instead, we have been observing a redistribution of demand for different cultural enterprises.
We asked people who self-identify as regular participants in several activities 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 July 18th update contemplates an additional 2,109 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.
Cultural experiences that allow for a visitor’s relative freedom of movement – and particularly those that involve outdoor spaces – stand to benefit from increased demand. 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.
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 continue to be durable in terms of which types of entities are increasing in demand and which are not. That is, they aren’t changing significantly in terms of relative demand distribution over time, and serve as a reasonable basis to inform strategies that are responsive to these perceptual challenges.
As people have gotten antsier at home and states have reopened, there’s been a dramatic increase in likelihood to visit public beaches and parks, in particular. (This increase may also be at least partially attributable to seasonality.) The medical and expert guidance that it’s safer to be outdoors than indoors is likely also playing a role in these findings. Moreover, as states have reopened, doing these particular outdoor activities may have become more 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. Seeing others take part in these activities may be contributing to the idea that taking part in them is a thing we do again.
As we get a hold on the virus and learn to coexist with it, we may hopefully see this trend emerge for other organization types as well. Some demand may be redistributed back to science museums and theaters, for instance, when these entities are able to change up the perceptions of what the experience entails and people see others safely participating in these experiences. The perception that a science museum requires a great deal of touch to be fully enjoyed may be shifted over time as the offerings evolve to maximize safety. The same may be said for live performances and the assumption that they require several people close together in an indoor space… provided entities take steps to shift these experiences to be safer.
What will make people feel safe attending?
Redistribution of demand is proving durable over time in terms of the experiences “in the red” and “in the green.” By contrast, what people say will make them feel safe visiting is not proving as reliably static. In fact, the strengths of the factors contributing to a feeling of safety have shifted quite a bit since we first started tracking this metric…
The data update for July 20th considers 2,339 additional adult US respondents.
We asked people, “What would make you feel safe and comfortable visiting a(n) [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. Then, these categorized responses are 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.
Mandatory face coverings have overtaken availability of a coronavirus vaccine as the single most important factor contributing to people feeling safe when visiting a cultural organization.
This rise in mandatory masks as being important for safety aligns with news articles and reports from experts about the importance of masks for our own safety and especially the safety of others around us. It is estimated that wearing masks could help get the coronavirus under control in four to eight weeks, and save tens of thousands of lives. Perhaps people are listening.
Or perhaps people are simply accepting that returning to normal activities might mean learning how to safely live alongside the virus for a time. The creation, approval, and distribution of a vaccine resulting in herd immunity may be many more months, or a year or longer away. This reality may be why masks now top the chart compared to the availability of a vaccine.
There has also been a dramatic decline in the percentage of people reporting that the government lifting restrictions means that conditions are safe to return to pre-pandemic behaviors. The government lifting restrictions was the second biggest factor making people feel safe after the availability of a vaccine when we first started this research. Now it’s seventh… and may still be decreasing.
As of this month, your organization’s own decision to be open is a bigger factor contributing to feeling safe than the government lifting restrictions. This is a big deal, but it’s not surprising. Cultural organizations are trusted entities at the same time that trust in the federal government is low. Many organizations closed before they were mandated to do so in an effort to flatten the curve. A notable 34% of likely visitors trust that you’ve duly considered safety and accordingly revised operations when making your decision to reopen.
How important are mandatory mask requirements?
Mandatory masks for entry are even more important than they were three weeks ago when we shared that most people want cultural organizations to require masks!
As you’ve seen, 76% of potential visitors in the United States say mandatory face coverings will make them feel safer. That means that 24% of potential visitors don’t significantly value masks as a level of personal protection against the coronavirus, are somewhat ambivalent about organizations or governments mandating masks, or actively oppose their usage. (No, not all 24% are necessarily actively opposed to masks.)
The findings below don’t only include cultural organizations; instead, they contemplate likely visitors planning to take part in any visitor-serving enterprise experience in the next three months, including sporting events, theme parks, concerts, and so on. We’ve included the broadest category of enterprise because it helps us understand the safety factors motivating any decision to attend a visitor-serving organization. Zooming out for perspective is a critical practice to help us effectively identify key trends.
We asked: “On a scale of 1-10 where a response of ‘1’ indicates that face coverings are ‘not at all essential, and a response of ’10’ indicates that face coverings are ‘absolutely essential and prerequisite’ to visiting an organization, how essential is requiring mandatory face coverings for all staff members, volunteers, and guests in your decision to visit an organization?”
A”10″ is an absolutely essential nonstarter. No mask requirement, no visit. These people aren’t going to go to places if masks aren’t required. The higher the rating, the more make-or-break masks are to people in terms of an attendance decision.
A response of “1” more often means masks are a non-factor (not necessarily that requiring them loses a visit). There may be some people who say that a mask requirement is a nonstarter to their visit, but a response of “1” is not necessarily a refusal to go if masks are required. Instead, it more frequently means that not mandating masks will not affect the visitation decision. (As you saw in the previous chart, a meaningful number of people feel comfortable visiting whatever the current protocols are – whether masks are required or not.)
Most potential visitors lean toward masks being “absolutely essential,” despite variance by region. Nationally, those who plan to attend visitor-serving entities say that mandatory masks are essential at a value of 7.7 on a 10.0 scale. On average – including both those who feel comfortable visiting without mandatory masks and people for whom it is prerequisite for a visit – people who plan to visit any cultural organization in the next three months consider face coverings as essential to enhancing their perceptions of safety with a relatively high strength of conviction.
This number is high for the US, and the change is a big deal. If you were hoping for even more unanimity of agreement for masks – or anything else, for that matter – consider that unanimity is not a norm in the United States. As I often remind readers, we don’t even all agree that kittens are cute. While national data provides broad directional insight, it’s critical to recognize local conditions – and that Americans generally don’t all agree on much of anything, no matter where you are.
On the whole, not requiring masks makes a meaningful number of people in every region uncomfortable. And here’s the kicker: Research suggests that not requiring masks will have a much greater negative impact on attendance than requiring them for a vast majority of organizations.
The belief that masks mandates are “absolutely essential” correlates with educational attainment, and likely visitors to cultural organizations (adults who have any interest in attending at all) tend to be an educated bunch on average. Don’t be misled by the data segmentation and assume that there’s an equal percentage of likely visitors to cultural entities in each column! The average adult visitor to cultural organizations in the US has graduated high school and has two years of college or a professional degree. Members are a particularly critical group to engage in our pandemic-impacted time, and members tend to have a bachelor’s degree or greater, on average.
Here is the data cut across the United States based upon educational attainment.
There is a segment of likely visitors who will actively resist wearing masks, and a larger segment who may be ambivalent about masks, totaling 24% nationally for these groups combined. If you’re in an area that does not require masks by government mandate, then you should be aware that the majority of people generally consider them essentially prerequisite to their consideration of a visit.
If you feel that your local area may be an exception and you are not requiring masks solely as a presumed revenue imperative, we encourage you to conduct your own research regarding the potential attendance loss of each decision. Indeed, there are exceptions. However, the tide on masks is turning quickly in most areas of the US that were once ambivalent.
Remember that all of the data shown here focuses on likely visitors and people who actually plan to attend visitor-serving organizations. This matters, because your core audiences are not the people (mask friend or foe) who troll social media and get angry but haven’t visited you before and weren’t likely to do so anyway.
Entities may benefit by being prepared to address or defend their face covering policy in either direction.
This isn’t the most important research on masks.
Museum revenue and attendance are important. That’s why we’re writing this article, and it’s why you’re reading it. As trusted entities and cornerstones of your communities, we want to help you motivate attendance so that you can keep inspiring and educating the masses.
As a data company, we advocate facts and science. In this article, we’ve shared facts about what people say will make them feel safe and motivate attendance. However, the hard facts on what will actually make people safe are not a matter of opinion. According to the CDC and health experts, face coverings help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Masks are predicted to save tens of thousands of lives during this global pandemic – which is upon us, and real, and the reason that cultural organizations had to close their doors in the first place. Sadly, requiring them earlier may have saved thousands of community members we’ve already lost.
Just yesterday, a new study was released outlining three measures that can significantly reduce the spread of the virus: hand washing, social distancing, and wearing masks. By providing hand sanitizer, limiting crowds and monitoring flow, and mandating masks, cultural organizations may start to provide inspiring experiences while also keeping their staff, friends, neighbors, and communities safe.
Facts are facts. Masks help keep people safe.
That’s the most important data finding of all.
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.