Entertainment venues—part of the industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic (Gössling, Scott, & Hall, 2020)—are yearning for consumers to return at pre-pandemic levels. Cancelled events left venues with massive losses, furloughs, and a recovery that could last into the next three years (Nhamo, Dube, & Chikodzi, 2020). But how can venues attract consumers given health concerns? Which illness mitigation measures should night clubs, movie theaters and the like continue utilizing as public health guidelines begin to relax? Right now, the United States is in somewhat of a gray area: increasing vaccination levels are encouraging, but there is still a risk of catching COVID-19, including its potential variants. Health concerns might be especially pressing for people who are ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine or live in the same household as others who are ineligible.

However, consumers are likely eager to return to such venues. This comes as no surprise given the jarring alterations to daily life and devastation people have been forced to reckon with. But some consumers will prefer more safety measures (e.g., face masks and hand sanitizer) than others at public outings. In a survey of over 1,000 people from Croatia, Slovenia and Iran, measures like hand sanitizer availability and venue disinfection were perceived to be most important among respondents when attending sporting events (Perić et al., 2021). Among respondents in Croatia and Slovenia, who were less impacted by COVID-19 relative to those in Iran at the time of publication, limiting food and beverage availability at sporting venues was perceived to be relatively less important. If more venues were aware of consumer priorities, they could more selectively invest in COVID-19 mitigation strategies, which are sometimes costly.

The Study

Using HCD’s MaxImplicit methodology, we asked (n=250) people to rank COVID-19 mitigation measures at entertainment venues according to their perceived importance. This general population study was conducted in mid-July 2021. The first portion of the survey was conducted using the MaxDiff methodology, which illustrates strong predictors of what will influence respondents (Orme, 2009). Then, we measured the implicit associations respondents hold between venues (e.g., movie theaters and concerts) and their attributes, such as hygienic, crowded, and fun, using an Implicit Association Test (IAT). These complementary measures help to reveal gaps between consumer needs and venue perceptions.

MaxDiff Results

The MaxDiff revealed the top five consumer needs below. Interestingly, these needs highlight actions (e.g., deep cleaning and ventilation) that occur before arrival. In other words, they are largely not visible at the venue itself. This implies consumers appear to prioritize trust and reliability indirectly.

Top-Ranked Needs (MaxDiff)

1DEEP CLEANED The venue is deep cleaned between events (e.g., sanitizing seats and surfaces).
2CLEAR PROTOCOLS BEFORE EVENT The venue’s health and safety protocols are clearly communicated before the event.
3CLEAR PROTOCOLS AT EVENT The health and safety protocols are clear at the event.
4VENTILATION The venue follows the CDC guidelines for indoor ventilation.
5SAFETY The venue makes me feel safe.

In contrast with the top needs, the bottom five needs below largely involve specific and visible COVID-19 protection measures. These bottom needs are somewhat burdensome for consumers as well. Collectively, the MaxDiff findings suggest that consumers might be looking to place the onus of enacting safety measures onto the venues.

Bottom-Ranked Needs (MaxDiff)

28STAGGERED ENTRANCE There is staggered entrance to the event.
29LIMITED FOOD AND BEVERAGES The venue will limit food and beverage usage (e.g., designated food areas and limited vending).
30CONTACTLESS PAYMENT Payment is contactless at the venue.
31REQUIRED QUARANTINE PERIOD The venue will require a quarantine period before attendance.
32INDOOR VENUE The venue is indoors.

The MaxDiff findings beg the question, which venues satisfy consumer needs? The IAT portion of the survey can help answer this question. We showed respondents multiple pairings of venues and descriptors. An example pairing is “movie theaters” and “organized.” Then, respondents revealed their association between the two by hitting the spacebar on their keyboard or touching the screen, depending on their device. Importantly, the IAT is a timed reaction test; a faster reaction implies a stronger association. Respondents could also indicate a lack of association by simply not hitting the spacebar or touching the screen. Nine venues and ten descriptors were tested in this study.

IAT Results

Below is a summary of the IAT findings in relation to the MaxDiff findings. The top needs can be considered related to the attributes Safe, Reliable, and Organized, which were tested in the IAT. The venues on the right—the “Top Venues”—were given their status because they had at least a minimum association with each of the words Safe, Reliable, and Organized. While these venues appear to satisfy consumer needs, the “Bottom Venues” (not listed in the graphic) do not. These include Amusement Parks, Indoor Bars and Nightclubs, Indoor Music Concerts, Indoor Sporting Events, and Outdoor Multi-Day Music Festivals. Therefore, we can recommend that these venues highlight their attributes of Safety, Reliability, and Organization within their messaging to better satisfy consumer needs.

Diagram, venn diagram

Description automatically generated

Consumer Clustering

Another useful way to gather insights from these data is through consumer clustering. This technique allows for consumer segmentation according to similarity. Specifically, K-Means clustering was performed using the MaxDiff data (results shown below) using the software R, resulting in three consumer clusters. The Dimensions represent “collapsed” data. Instead of mapping consumers by the numerous individual variables that were collected, they were mapped according to Dimensions which help summarize the key drivers behind the clusters. The percentages next to the Dimensions indicate how much that Dimension is contributing to the overall clustering. Further, each has a unique profile. The top three variables contributing to Dimension 1 include 1) I feel I will belong at the venue, 2) The experience feels luxurious, and 3) The experience is fun. For Dimension 2, they are 1) The venue makes me feel safe, 2) The venue will require a quarantine period, and 3) The venue is hygienic.