Here’s what your organization needs to know about where things stand during this time of transition.
With half of US adults fully vaccinated, the United States is opening back up! On May 13th, the CDC lifted its mask guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals and some states are lifting capacity restrictions. That said, at the time of this writing, 24 US states/territories have opted to retain statewide masking requirements, and numerous organizations across the country are choosing to require masks regardless of the lack of government mandates. Needless to say, we’re in a time of change in terms of expected and desired safety protocols in public places.
What does this mean for cultural organizations? Cultural organizations include entities such as museums, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, historic sites, science centers, theaters, symphonies, etc. IMPACTS Experience has been tracking desired safety protocols for likely visitors to cultural entities since the start of the pandemic, and we’ve been diving deep into shifting perceptions in recent weeks. Today, we’re sharing a data update in an effort to help cultural organizations understand where things stand.
1) Potential visitors are more likely to be vaccinated than those without interest in museums and performing arts organizations.
If you’re a cultural audience nerd like we are (and we know that many of our readers are!) then this finding won’t surprise you. On the whole, the kind of people who have any interest in attending cultural entities at all are more likely than the average American to be vaccinated. And they are significantly more likely to be vaccinated than people who profile as NOT having an interest in attending a museum or performing arts organization in the United States.
The research contemplates the responses of 3,816 US adults during the one-week data collection period ending on May 21, 2021, and it shows the percent vaccination rates between people who profile as high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations and those who do not.
A high-propensity visitor is someone who has the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of attending a museum or performing arts organization. These are the people who actually go – or even want to go – to cultural entities. High-propensity visitors include both active visitors who currently visit our organizations as well as inactive visitors who indicate an interest in attending an organization but have not actually attended in the last two years or longer.
People who have an interest in visiting cultural entities are generally an educated bunch, compared to the overall population. We also know that during the pandemic, educational attainment has correlated with the acceptance of safety protocols surrounding the guest experience. Educational attainment generally signaled the belief that masks were essential for guests, staff, and volunteers in order to attend an organization in 2020. Thus, it may be unsurprising that these individuals might have been first in line for the vaccination (when they qualified for it)!
Unlikely visitors, on the other hand, have relative disinterest in visiting cultural organizations now and into the future. Simply put, these folks aren’t currently attending cultural organizations… nor are they planning to do so. And, as you can see, a lower percentage of people who profile as unlikely visitors are currently vaccinated in the United States.
Why does this matter? Read on, data aficionados…
2) Perceptions surrounding safety protocols are changing quickly for those already planning to visit.
How do the people who are currently planning their visits to cultural organizations feel about safety protocols now that more people are being vaccinated and regulations are changing?
The chart below indicates the attitudes of 1,981 US adults who intend to visit a cultural organization within the next 90 days. These respondents aren’t merely interested in going; they are actively planning their visit to one or more specific cultural organizations. This chart compares responses from people intending to visiting in the next 90 days as of May 21st, compared to only three weeks prior on April 30th. This chart demonstrates our most likely visitors’ attitudes moving from being somewhat cautious to increasingly believing it’s time to start moving “back to normal.”
The jump from 42.4% of people to 50.6% of people believing that “It’s time to go back to normal” in only three weeks is a notable shift! Plus, keep in mind that likely visitors tended to be more sensitive to safety protocols during the pandemic.
As discussed, people with an interest in visiting cultural organizations currently have higher vaccination rates, and that may play a role in the shifting sentiments. Indeed, “the availability of vaccinations” has been a top factor influencing how comfortable people have felt onsite at cultural institutions throughout the pandemic. And now vaccinations are available!
We are in the middle of a sentiment divide at this point. About half of people planning their visits want some level of safety protocols to remain for now, and the other half are back in the pre-pandemic saddle.
On the whole, there is a trend towards easing “back to normal.” And from a data standpoint, these are big shifts in only three weeks. But there’s more to consider…
3) Masks are still important – particularly if you welcome adults with children in the household.
The chart above contemplates people who are actively planning to visit an organization in the next 90 days. It necessarily illustrates the sentiments of people who feel safe enough to have already made the decision to attend. You may be wondering what we know about other likely visitors (a far bigger group of people than those with a mark on their calendar) – including those who may be on the fence about visiting.
Throughout the pandemic, likely visitors identified masks as the single biggest contributor to feeling safe onsite. Mandatory mask requirements even beat out the availability of vaccinations as the key factor making people feel safe (though it held notably close). And right now, mandatory mask requirements are still important for cultural organizations. As of May 21st, approximately 67% of likely visitors in the United States believe that organizations should still require all visitors to wear a mask. While we do see a bit of regional variance in the strength of this sentiment, likely visitors still tend to be sensitive to this safety protocol.
There’s a notable subgroup for whom mask mandates are particularly essential right now: People with children under 13 in their household. The chart below shows the belief that a cultural organization should require masks among nearly 4,000 likely visitors to cultural organizations in the United States. It is cut by people who report having a child under age 13 in the household compared to those who do not.
Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccination in the US. It stands to reason that adult visitors – though potentially vaccinated themselves – may be looking to keep their families safe. Interestingly, adults with children in the household have stronger mask preferences right now regardless of whether their children are visiting the organization with them or not. Note that the CDC’s mask changes announced on May 13th barely moved the needle for parents when it comes to requirements to feel comfortable in cultural spaces.
While it can be enticing to jump back into pre-pandemic “normal,” remember that there are parents and grandparents with loved ones who may still be at risk. On the whole, mask requirements are still important for a majority of potential visitors, and this sentiment is particularly strong among adults with children in the household.
Now let’s take a look at the importance of various safety protocols in another way.
In the chart below, responses were collected by a process known as lexical analysis, which allows us to broadly categorize responses from people using their own words. The technologies that underpin this process help to minimize the risks of unintentional biases that occur when facilitators translate a respondent’s statements. In other words, the range of factors indicated below came directly from survey respondents; we did not internally brainstorm these options. We gathered the respondents’ open-ended answers to a series of questions probing the measures and protocols being deployed to (hopefully) enhance their onsite safety. That’s also why some of these are rather specific: These are the summarized voices of the people, folks!
The differences for people with a child in the household may grab your attention…
We encourage organizations to pay special attention to any factor with an average value greater than 6.0. To be clear, in no way are we suggesting that the other factors aren’t important. We are, however, suggesting that organizations prioritize their finite resources to focus on what your audiences deem the most important factors.
If your organization has a mask mandate, the research is clear: You should enforce it. Empower staff and volunteers to remind attendees to pull their masks above their noses – especially if yours is an organization that welcomes children or adults who have kids at home.
We’re in a time of transition with safety protocols, for sure – but not when it comes to masks for people with children in their households. If yours is an organization that welcomes families, removing mask mandates too early may risk market potential.
In general, however, we’re also seeing that additional restrictions perceived as onerous may conversely have a deleterious effect on attendance. The research suggests that smart, well-communicated health measures should be well-received by the vast preponderance of visitors. We’ll share contemporary data on this topic, in particular, in our next article on June 9th. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so that you don’t miss it.
Things are moving forward! Situations are evolving! More and more people are being vaccinated! This is all good news for the cultural industry, but we’re certainly not “back to normal” yet.
In the meantime, take heart. People are feeling more and more comfortable visiting cultural organizations again.
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.
We publish new national data and analysis every other Wednesday. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.