COVID-19 Response: Visitor attractions industry survey results

As part of industry efforts for visitor attractions to unite against COVID-19, Dexibit is collating survey results on how venues are responding to the crisis to help leaders navigating the crisis compare their own action plans to the industry overall. Over the past couple of weeks, this survey has received over 200 responses, mostly from small to mid sized museums in North America. A preview of results thus far is summarized below. Due to the sample size and concentrated distribution plus with a rapidly changing situation, we recommend treating this data under the lens of an industry pulse check rather than a benchmark.

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Respondents were spread across Asia Pacific, UK Europe, Middle East, Latin America and the Carribean and range from annual visitation of under 100,000 to over 1,000,000. In addition to museums and galleries, venues surveyed include historic sites and tourist attractions, zooms and aquariums, ski resorts, parks and gardens, theme and water parks, stadiums and performing arts. 90% of respondents had closed their venue at the time of responding (late March for most). 

Over three quarters of respondents are managing via their business continuity plan. Though only one in three had established theirs prior to the crisis, the remainder had mostly already established one in the early stages of the pandemic. The majority of visitor attractions (58%) were communicating with staff on a daily basis, with most otherwise communicating weekly (24%) and the remainder on an ad hoc basis. 

The majority of attractions are expecting a 50% or more reduction in visitation for the 2020 calendar year. When asked to rank their concern of the crisis to the survival of their organization, the average response was 6/10 (on a scale where 10 is ‘incredibly concerned’). 

 

 

Concerns and tactics 

Rightly so, the greatest concern of visitor attractions is the health and safety of staff and visitors (the primary concern for half of all respondents), followed by financial impacts and resulting layoffs, then engaging visitors while closed. That this is followed by an impact on visitation suggests either the lack of immediacy of that problem, given it can only be truly felt once reopening occurs and perhaps that an ability to engage visitors while closed will help mitigate this issue somewhat – though its inevitable contribution to financial impacts cannot be ignored. The impact on volunteers, government restrictions and limitations on opening and managing illness and bereavement amongst staff are the lowest three concerns. 

In terms of tactics to respond to these concerns, nearly all (94%) of respondents are providing or planning to provide online content or access and the majority are doing this now. Following, online education (featuring in 79% of plans), virtual tours (72%), reopening with health and safety measures (70%) and reopening with limitations (also 70%) feature additionally in the majority of plans. The surprise absence is in ‘staycation’ marketing, encouraging more locals to visit (particularly given reduced travel options), which features in less than half of response tactics. The most common priorities which were planned but not yet started were reopening with reduced capacity (92% of those who planned this tactic had not started its preparation at the time of response) and reopening with additional health and safety measures (86% of plans not yet commenced).

 

Staff care

In terms of how visitor attractions are supporting staff, this survey asked for details on whether the visitor attraction was intending on providing benefits for staff who cannot work during closures, additional sick or bereavement leave for those impacted by COVID-19 and additional Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or other mental health support during the crisis. Respondents did often note differences between salaried versus wage staff and often part time or contract staff were the first candidates for workforce reduction. 

A clear majority (62%) of visitor attractions were providing benefits to staff unable to work during the closure, from which three quarters of organizations had already communicated this to staff while the remainder were in the process of formalizing. 12% of respondents were not providing additional benefits.

From these benefits, nearly half (47%) were providing additional sick or bereavement leave for staff impacted by COVID-19 and of these, the majority had already communicated this to staff while a quarter elected not to provide additional leave.

However, just over a third (37%) were providing additional EAP or other mental health support and of these, again three quarters had already communicated this to staff. Nearly health (46%) did not plan to.

 

Consumer policy 

Visitor attractions have unique impacts to advance pass bookings and membership or season passes which represent unrecognized revenue requiring consumer policy decision and resulting processing. Of the options taken up to proactively manage these, refunds and reschedules were the most popular options, each offered by 41% of respondents; followed by donations (28%), conversion to credit via an unscheduled pass (18%) or cross sell such as membership (12%). Anecdotal feedback suggests donation uptake has proven more successful than hoped for most venues, including at for profit organizations as well as public sector and non profit institutions.

For memberships or season passes, the majority (50%) simply extended the member term. Other options offered included donation (18%), refund (11%), member service credit (10%) or cross sell credit (7%). 

 Looking ahead to the future, a separate casual pulse poll taken from our Facebook Group for Visitor attractions responding to COVID-19 suggests the common industry expectation is for reopening to take place in the coming quarter (July to September 2020), favored by 85% of respondents. A hopeful 10% were expecting reopening earlier during the current quarter, a few pessimistically expecting closures to extend into October or beyond. What life looks like beyond that, right now is anyone’s guess.  

 

Limitations: this survey should be used only as a general guide to industry activity and not as an official benchmark as it currently has a small sample size (~200), with a heavy bias towards small to mid sized museums in the United States. Responses were anonymous and possibly include duplicates or responses from staff unfamiliar with some parts of their organization’s COVID-19 approach.