Two new, top barriers to attending cultural organizations have emerged in the last few months.
In the ten years preceding the pandemic, the top reasons why people with a stated interest in visiting did not actually attend those organizations remained generally durable. These inactive visitors preferred another activity, thought the institution was too far away to easily attend, or believed there was “nothing new to do or see.” While IMPACTS Experience observed that the top barriers differed a bit in order, strength of conviction, and detail by region and organization type, we found that the underlying rationales remained static for years.
Enter the pandemic. It’s not news that the cultural industry experienced massive disruption in 2020, and it’s not news that the chips have not settled yet – even two years later.
In 2020 and through the early months of 2022, coronavirus-related concerns made the list as a primary barrier for visiting cultural organizations. Safety concerns also rose as a barrier to attendance, particularly for entities located in major metropolitan markets. More recently, IMPACTS Experience has observed another major shift in the top barriers to visitation within the past three months. Two new barriers are keeping interested visitors from walking through the doors of museums and performing arts organizations.
The research below contemplates the top reasons why inactive visitors (folks with interest who have not attended recently or at all) are not choosing to visit as of the end of Q2 2022.
Regular readers know the drill: The research below is the result of a data science technology that we refer to as “lexical analysis.” It allows IMPACTS Experience to deliver open-ended queries and let people answer in their own words. This aids us in getting to the root of barriers to attendance and avoids framing, anchoring, or otherwise skewing the responses as is often inevitable when people are provided a set list of possible responses as is typical in traditional survey methodologies.
New barriers this quarter are highlighted in blue.
“Wait! There’s so much here! How can we overcome these challenges and others?!” Good question. If you’re interested, we’re happy to work with you to cut the research for your specific region and organization type, and dive into top barriers for your own organization and potential audiences alongside key trends to aid in alleviating these barriers.
While the two barriers of travel costs and schedule conflicts certainly existed in the past, they have only ascended to Top Five status within the past few months. While we don’t yet know how durable they will prove to be, we do know that they are causing pause for some potential guests right now.
Cost of travel is a new primary barrier to attendance
In the past quarter, cost of travel has rapidly escalated as a prominent reason people who are interested in visiting both exhibit and performance-based organizations are not actually attending.
As we shared in our last article, the amount of money that people expect to spend on their trip to a visitor-serving organization has decreased by 12.5% for exhibit-based organizations and 28.6% for performance-based organizations as of Q2 2022 when compared to EOY 2019. These are significant declines in total spending expectations. If we dive deeper into cost-related barriers, we can see that travel cost is indeed a key issue right now, and it is further complicated by factors surrounding inflation and general concern about the economy. But before your leadership teams starts brainstorming possible discounts to your admission price in hopes of offsetting cost-related concerns, understand that admission prices themselves are not a significant barrier to visiting right now – not by a long shot.
There may be precious little that organizations themselves can do to control broad concerns about the economy and attendant behaviors. So, what does this mean for cultural organizations? Well, for now the wisest answer may simply be to understand these current economic concerns. Again, we don’t yet know how durable these broad economic concerns will prove to be over time, but we’ll continue to monitor the situation.
In the immediate near term, it’s reasonable to consider that these concerns may ebb and flow relative to the overall state of the economy and its impact on consumer behaviors. We have historically observed an inverse correlation to several economic factors and their respective impacts on the cultural sector. A decline in foreign travel for leisure purposes? That often bodes well for domestic travel. A shortening of trip length from one week to a long weekend? In the past, that has proven favorable for organizations in weekend getaway destinations. The economy is a vast, complex ecosystem – we’re a part of it, but we do not necessarily dictate its future direction.
Schedule conflicts are also a new primary barrier to attendance
The pump was primed for this barrier to come in big at the right moment. Being open and highlighting experiences during the dates and times in which people actually can and want to attend (link) is the top factor in how people decide to spend their leisure time (link). This remained the case even throughout the pandemic. Cultural organizations do not get to dictate when potential visitors’ free time is – the potential visitors do. Entities that are unavailable during the dates and times in which it is most convenient for people to attend risk losing visitation.
No doubt about it – “schedule” is important. But that’s not new. What is new are a few conditions surrounding many Americans’ schedules right now. First, people are going back to schools and returning to the workplace, potentially making out-of-home leisure activities harder to execute than when more of us were working from home.
Second, and more importantly, competition for out-of-home leisure time is fierce right now, and this is likely to continue throughout 2023 as well. As people have greater demands on their work and school schedules, there’s also a want to return to those activities that may have been missed during the pandemic – concerts, sporting events, trivia nights, and even a day at the beach or picnic in the park when the weather is nice. The combination of less free time and more things that people want to do means “schedule conflicts” manifests as a primary barrier to visiting cultural institutions.
What are the implications of this finding? Understanding audiences for successful targeting and re-marketing is critical. It means that relevant and engaging programs are a priority. Given that schedule conflicts are currently predicted to become an even greater barrier in 2023 than they are now, it means making sure that your organization’s admission pricing and business operations are in order.
Schedule conflicts and travel costs are two new barriers to attending both exhibit and performance-based organizations at the moment. Unfortunately, neither of them is entirely within an individual organization’s sole control – though we should certainly be mindful of potential schedule conflicts and concerns when planning our days and hours of operation. Much of the change we are witnessing has inspired some interesting conversations about the importance of access to real-time, high-confidence research. We’re asking one of the same questions that you probably are:
Is the “new normal” for the industry constant change? Or is the “new normal” still settling?
Either way, we’re here to help keep you informed.
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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