Indeed, folks. Cultural organizations remain in a tight spot when it comes to the decision to relax mask mandates – particularly those entities that serve families with children.
Here’s an update.
We’ll start with a takeaway in the data update: People without children in the household are ready to ease mask requirements, but people with children in the household remain more hesitant.
Upwards of 45% of the population of the United States has been fully vaccinated at the time of writing. However, vaccination rates are slowing down in some states, and at the same time, a new Delta coronavirus variant is threatening those same areas.
In both red and blue states, people who have an interest in attending museums and performing arts organizations are more likely to be vaccinated than the general public. This bunch has also been more sensitive to safety protocols like mask mandates than those without interest in attending these kinds of institutions. Regardless of US region, these folks represent a more science-abiding and coronavirus-concerned group of people than those without interest in cultural leisure activities.
And that makes the current spot that cultural organizations are in regarding safety measures even more tenuous…
It’s time for another data update to see where things stand. This is our third article tracking developments over the last six weeks with dedicated attention after the CDC relaxed its masking guidelines. Our last update shared data from two weeks ago on June 4th. So, how much have things changed since then? How quickly? Where do things stand now?
Here’s the answer as of Friday, June 18th.
1) General perceptions surrounding safety protocols for those planning to attend organizations changed significantly over the last two weeks.
The chart below adds data from June 18 to the mix and includes an additional 1,907 US adults who intend to visit a cultural organization in the next 90 days. These respondents are actively planning their visit to one (or more) specific cultural organization. In other words, here are the attitudes of people who have already decided that they are going to attend a specific museum, aquarium, zoo, or performing arts organization.
Check out that leap!
In the last two weeks, the percentage of people actively planning visits who think “it’s time to get back to normal” rose from 52.2% to 63.3%. This is an even bigger shift than was observed just after the CDC changed its guidelines. This may be due to people observing more and more individuals without masks and other locations relaxing their policies. The period of “easing into” removing masks may be speeding up.
But remember, this research contemplates people who feel comfortable enough with current mask prevalence to be actively planning a visit. Thus, these findings are skewed toward people who are already comfortable leaving their homes. Also, some cultural organizations have already removed their mask mandates, and this research thus includes the people who have decided they are okay with this.
What about the perceptions of all likely visitors – including those who are still on the fence about visiting and may need additional assurance before they make definite plans?
2) Masks remain particularly important for people with children in the household.
Masks are still important for likely visitors to museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts organizations, and other cultural organizations, especially those that welcome children.
As of June 18th, approximately 53% of high-propensity visitors to cultural entities in the United States believe that organizations should require all visitors to wear a mask. On June 4th, it was 62% and on May 21st, it was 67%. Certainly, the overall sentiment surrounding masks is that people – particularly those who have been vaccinated – are feeling more comfortable resuming mask-less activities. The decrease in the percentage of likely visitors requiring masks to visit is almost entirely driven by people who do not have children under 13 in the household.
The chart below cumulatively shows the belief that a cultural organization should require masks among nearly 6,700 likely visitors to cultural organizations in the United States. It is sorted to denote respondents who report having a child under age 13 in the household and those who do not.
On the whole, people who have children under 13 in the household still believe cultural entities should require masks – and this has not significantly budged in the last two weeks. In fact, it’s barely budged at all since before the CDC changed its mask guidelines. Generally speaking, parents are about as concerned now about mask-wearing as they were before the guidelines changed. 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 – are looking to keep their families safe.
How much this information matters to you depends on your organization’s audience composition. Some organizations serve more families with younger children than others. People with children in the household make up a notable percentage of attendance for certain kinds of cultural organizations such as children’s museums, science centers, aquariums, and zoos – and masking policies may remain particularly important for those organizations whose experiences rely heavily on indoor spaces.
In the end, organizations that promise a safe space for families may want to be especially mindful of this sensitivity as they evolve their onsite policies for guests. Again, things are changing – but we’ve seen little movement in this sentiment to date as it relates to families with unvaccinated children. If the person who makes the decision to attend your organization is most often a parent with a child under 13, then an organization may be well-advised to continue to heed recommended health practices concerning unvaccinated populations.
3) Masks are one of the only safety protocols that potential visitors still believe to be effective and are willing to abide by at this stage of the pandemic.
The chart below cumulatively contemplates 3,311 US adults who intend to visit an organization in the next 90 days at the time of their being surveyed and quantifies how effective they believe various protocols to be in terms of supporting a safe onsite experience. This chart is populated by a process called 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. We gathered the respondents’ open-ended answers to a series of questions probing the measures and protocols being deployed with the goal of enhancing their onsite safety. That’s also why some of these are rather specific – these are the summarized voices of the people.
The findings are shown in scalar variables and items with measurements over 6.0 are particularly worthy of note in this research. Those are the items that have the strongest strength of conviction. Leaders may want to think twice about slashing these measures.
People are itching to get back to normal! Amongst those currently planning a visit, masks are still important with a scalar variable of seven. This tells us that, in general, people still believe masking to be effective at reducing the risk of transmission.
The only other item with a value still over 6.0 is “visiting only during certain hours if I have a special health concern.” At IMPACTS Experience, we’ve been colloquially calling this the “That sounds like a you problem” answer. Essentially, the lexical analysis suggests that people with specific health considerations should find or be offered specific times to attend. In other words, there is an increasingly palpable perception that your health is your problem…don’t make it mine. (Yikes!)
On their own, these findings are interesting. They may be especially valuable when considered alongside a potential visitor’s willingness to abide by these protocols.
The chart below contemplates the same people who intend to visit an organization in the next 90 days, and, more specifically, their willingness to take part in different safety protocols. Thus, the research in these two charts is representative of people planning to visit, but not all potential visitors. We know that many people with an interest in museums and performing arts are still choosing not to attend certain entities for safety-related reasons.
We’ve seen similar movements in visitors’ willingness to abide by certain protocols and the efficacy of those protocols. As a general guideline, when both the belief that a protocol is effective and the willingness to follow it are under a value of 6.0, it’s time to consider taking that protocol off the table. Waiting much longer risks irritating visitors and appearing performative rather than visitor-focused.
On the whole, likely visitors to cultural organizations are still willing to wear masks.
Like in the previous chart, “Visiting only during certain hours if I have a health consideration” is an answer stated by both those with a health consideration and those without. Remember that these two charts survey people who are actively planning a visit in the next 90 days, and a majority of the people stating this response are unlikely to have a health condition actively preventing them from attending. If they do, they may be specifically attending an event with special hours for those with similar health considerations.
Organizations may consider relaxing most other safety protocols, aside from mask mandates for entities that serve people with children under 13 years old.
Remember: You don’t get to decide how guests feel about their own safety, and neither does the CDC. Potential guests decide for themselves what makes them feel comfortable. If organizations remove safety protocols too soon, they risk attendance as people with children in the household may simply decide to pursue a perceptually safer activity instead. On the other hand, if they hold on to protocols that guests feel are irrelevant for too long, they risk annoying attendees. It’s a dance, and potential attendees get to lead. (Or they simply won’t come.)
“Many of our guests are families! What should we do about masks right now?”
It’s a good question. We may be in a tight spot until children can be vaccinated. If yours is an organization that welcomes a meaningful percentage of families with young children as a major component of your audience, consider this:
1) On the whole, parents of young children still desire mask requirements.
Although there may be a want to parse these findings by blue state and red state, the data suggests that parents of young children (particularly those who engage with cultural enterprise) are fairly uniform in their concern for the health of their children. Might this continue to evolve as vaccination rates increase? It might. But for the immediate time being, showing concern for the health of your youngest constituents is probably still a wise policy.
2) Overall, people are still willing to wear masks.
Consider this: Roughly 70% of households with children very much want their fellow attendees to wear masks. Let’s say for the sake of this example that half of an organization’s attendees include visitors with children. Of course, the percentage of people visiting with children will vary from organization to organization. You can plug in your own specific numbers to calculate your respective potential risk to market potential. In this hypothetical case of an organization with 50% visitation from adults with young children, the organization risks losing 35% of its adult audience (and the children they bring) if it removes mask mandates too soon. (50% of the audience has children, and 70% of these folks want to keep mask policies in place. 50% of 70% is 35% of total audience.)
If you ditch your mask policies, this hypothetical organization would risk alienating approximately one-third of its audience. And the organization risks needlessly irritating these people, since the research suggests that the other two-thirds of this hypothetical audience – even though they may not perceive masks as the “go/no-go” binary protocol that many families do – remain willing to wear a mask when indoors. For the immediate near term, the data suggests that if this type of organization keeps mask mandates intact, then it will keep its most concerned families happy…and the remainder of its audiences are still willing to abide by the policy. On the other hand, if an organization removes mask mandates too soon, they risk losing onsite engagement and attendance from families.
3) Remind guests why you may still be requiring masks: Because you care about the families visiting you, and your youngest attendees have not had a chance to get vaccinated yet.
We’ve uncovered through our work with select clients at IMPACTS Experience that good signage on this point can go a long way. No matter how it may feel sometimes, we consistently find that visitors generally don’t want to be jerks. Simply reminding people that kiddos don’t have the same level of protection from the virus yet may be all that it takes. It’s a community sentiment: We keep kids safe here, and we care about the comfort of their caretakers. Please wear a mask for their protection until everyone has access to the vaccination. (This is example messaging to articulate the point. You do you.)
Perceptions are changing quickly for potential visitors without children in their households, but they have been holding steady for people with younger kids. Organizations that are predominately indoors still face a stronger sentiment regarding mask mandates than those perceived as being mostly outdoor experiences (zoos, botanic gardens, some historic sites such as cemeteries or memorials, etc.).
Keep your eyes peeled for an update on these safety perceptions the week after next. We are also getting several inquiries regarding “revenge tourism” from leaders right now and updates on projected market potential. We have those updates in the works. Subscribe here so you don’t miss them!
In the meantime, we hope that your organization is reaping the benefits of (hopefully) being open during this historically peak time of year for attendance. What a difference one year makes!
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