Here’s what cultural organizations need to know.
It’s almost time for Spring Break in the United States. Historically, this time tends to be beneficial for cultural organizations across the country. People often spend their precious time off enjoying leisure activities – including visiting zoos, aquariums, museums, historic sites, gardens, and performing arts organizations.
As we all remember (too well), Spring Break 2020 was generally sabotaged for cultural entities due to the coronavirus. Lockdowns and strict quarantines were starting around this time, concern about the pandemic was rapidly increasing, and many cultural entities made the decision to close in order to help flatten the infection curve and aid their communities even before it was mandated. As it turned out, the pandemic did not last only two weeks (remember that idea?) and attendance to cultural entities declined dramatically in 2020 as we grappled with our first year of living with the virus.
But what should cultural entities expect for Spring Break 2021? Vaccinations are rolling out, we’ve had a year to adjust to pandemic conditions, and there’s some hope on the horizon.
IMPACTS Experience tracks perceptions and behaviors surrounding leisure activities, and we’ve been asking the American public about their plans for Spring Break, which generally falls during the weeks before and just after the Easter holiday. This research contemplates the responses of 3,817 US adults relative to Spring Break 2021, and, for the sake of comparative context, an additional 4,009 adults that we surveyed back in 2019. We’ve uncovered four key differences in current US Spring Break travel plans when compared to 2019, our most recent non-pandemic year:
1) Fewer people plan to travel further than 150 miles from home this year
Fewer people intend to travel further than 150 miles from their primary residence this year for Speak Break. This is perhaps unsurprising as the nation awaits a more complete vaccination rollout while tackling new coronavirus variants. This year, nearly 70% of Americans do not intend to travel more than 150 miles from their homes, up from 51.3% in 2019.
Knowing that most people will be staying closer to home this year may be particularly important information for cultural entities that traditionally attract a national audience, as Spring Break attendance numbers may be less than these organizations experienced in previous years. This said, cultural entities in major metro markets may indeed pull from the suburbs and attract local and/or near-regional audiences eager to get out of the house.
2) Most people traveling further than 150 miles plan to do so by personal vehicle
Let’s take a closer look at the plans of the 14.8% of people who do intend to travel further than 150 miles over Spring Break. Specifically, let’s see how their intended means of travel differ in 2021 from 2019 when the pandemic was not yet a part of our reality.
A majority of those traveling over 150 miles from home intend to do so in their own personal vehicle. This amounts to a 50% increase in people who will be traveling via personal vehicle this year compared to 2019. Meanwhile, the percentage of people intending to travel by plane experienced nearly a 50% decrease compared to 2019.
3) Over half of those traveling will spend one night or less away from home
People intend to spend fewer nights away from home, and they’ve shortened the duration of their trip. For most people this year (28.9%), those 150+ miles will be part of a day trip. For 23.1%, it will be a one-night stay.
The shift toward shorter trips this year may increase the competition for leisure time when people visit a destination, as there will be less time to explore other nearby cultural organizations and activities in the macroenvironment. It may be a bit more difficult to make it onto this year’s quick-trip itinerary compared to past years – especially if your organization chose to reduce its marketing investment in meaningful ways during the pandemic.
4) Primary motivations for travel have shifted
The percentage of people traveling, the means by which they intend to travel, and the duration of their travel aren’t the only key factors that have shifted. The very motivation to travel has altered in 2021. The two biggest changes are (1) the decline in visiting friends and family as a primary motivator in selecting a destination, and (2) the rise in the straightforward desire for a change of scenery.
Over half of those intending to travel say that their primary motivator is simply wanting to get away from home. When I first received this finding from IMPACTS Experience, I laughed. The data in this chart was populated by a process called lexical analysis. First, we asked open-ended questions and people responded in their own words. Then, we took their answers and created a “select all that apply” survey. This means that when we asked people why they are planning to visit a certain destination over spring break, they literally told us phrases along the lines of, “I just need to get out of my house.”
The other big change is the decrease in visiting friends and family as a primary motivator this year. It may be relatively unsurprising as we await the full rollout of the vaccines and people aim to keep their loved ones safe.
Also note that though there is a pandemic, visiting a major metro market is still the top motivator for those willing to travel over Spring Break this year. This is good news if your organization is in the big city, all things considered.
What does this mean for cultural entities?
A smaller portion of the population intends to travel during Spring Break 2021 than during Spring Break 2019. Entities able to obtain moderate visitation over spring break are likely to find that the makeup of audiences may be different than in the past in terms of their residential proximity to the institution. In general, however, market potential in the second quarter of 2021 is estimated to total approximately 67.5% of 2019 attendance. (This market potential number is an average for all US cultural organizations. If you’re interested in the market potential for your own museum or entity, region, or organization type, we’re happy to help.)
These findings also underscore the importance of remaining top of mind for potential visitors during this time – especially for local and regional markets. Trips will be shorter this year, with less room on the travel itinerary. Entities that have been more active online getting into people’s newsfeeds, Instagram stories, creating buzz, and cultivating positive word of mouth about providing a safe and satisfying experience during the pandemic may stand to benefit the most. Before spring break rolls around, cultural entities may additionally benefit by reminding day-trip audiences that they are a worthy destination.
On the whole, spring break attendance is not likely to reach 2019 levels, and the composition of visiting audiences may vary from past years (i.e. more local guests, fewer multi-generational families).
In the recent past, spring break may have meant airplane rides and relaxing vacations for many of our visitors. Thankfully, engaging getaways remain an option thanks to the important work of cultural organizations in our own backyards. Though the miles traveled may lessen, the desire for people to explore their world remains strong.
IMPACTS Experience provides data specific to organizations or markets through workshops, keynote presentations, webinars, and data services such as pricing recommendations, market potential analyses, concept testing, and Awareness, Attitude, and Usage studies. Learn more.
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