Social media personalities Dixie D’Amelio and Noah Beck at Disney California Journey Park on the Disneyland Resort on Could 2, 2021 in Anaheim, California.
Handout | Getty Pictures Leisure | Getty Pictures
The Covid pandemic made the previous 14 months a literal curler coaster of a experience for each theme parks and their followers.
Parks shut down or did not open in any respect final spring, and though some did reopen by summer season, it was with strict capability limits and stringent well being and security measures that postpone some prospects and undoubtedly dented the enjoyable issue for others.
This is a have a look at how issues are shaping up in 2021 for this a part of the journey and tourism sector, and the way potential guests can take advantage of out a theme park trip because the pandemic winds down.
Pre-pandemic, issues had been going nicely for the sector. The highest 20 North American theme parks drew 159,108,000 guests in 2019, 1% greater than the yr earlier than, in keeping with the 2019 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index.
To attract much more guests, park operators have been rolling income again into much-hyped, big-budget new sights just like the Jurassic World Velocicoaster at Common Orlando Resort’s Islands of Journey in Florida and the Marvel-themed Avengers Campus at Disney California Journey Park in Anaheim.
Folks have not forgotten these debuts have been within the pipeline.
“Quite a lot of households are opting into going to theme parks this yr,” stated Trish Smith, a Kansas Metropolis, Missouri-based journey advisor affiliated with the InteleTravel community of home-based brokers. “I’ve really had extra bookings at this level this yr than I did in 2019.
“There are such a lot of new sights coming that lots of people are like, ‘Yeah, I do not need to miss out on that, and I need to be the primary,'” she added.
Demand is particularly pent-up in California, the place parks did not reopen till this April.
In reality, Michael Erstad, senior analyst, shopper for analysis agency M Science, stated theme parks might see a return to former attendance ranges as quickly as subsequent yr. “I definitely suppose it is a risk,” he stated. “It should all rely how issues go together with the virus for the remainder of the yr.
“I would not rely [a rebound] out.”
Client knowledge insights agency Cardify has discovered, unsurprisingly, that theme parks noticed an enormous drop in shopper spending final yr however “have been in a position to recuperate a bit” by final summer season by reopening with capability restrictions. Now that cities and states are enjoyable pandemic restrictions, parks are seeing what Cardify phrases the “silver lining” for park operators — a brand new “sharp enhance” in spending.
Cardify additionally present in a survey of 1,044 customers that 72% are excited to return to amusement parks after the pandemic, extra so than film theaters (68%) or bars and golf equipment (67%). Solely in-person live shows (79%) and sporting occasions (74%) are extra eagerly awaited.
Theme parks “are in a a lot better spot” relative to cinemas, cruises, air journey, motels and different leisure choices, stated Erstad at M Science.
As at ski resorts, at theme parks “loads of the expertise is outdoor,” he stated, and due to this fact much less dangerous when it comes to publicity. “You do queue up for rides, however over the past yr they’ve made enhancements to enhance the buying choices for meals and beverage so that you do loads of issues electronically.”
So, the place are thrill-seekers headed?
There are primarily two theme park markets within the U.S., though there may be some crossover between them. Giant vacation spot parks — corresponding to Walt Disney World, Common Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando, clustered collectively in central Florida — draw each home and worldwide guests for longer holidays, whereas regional parks, typically smaller and fewer closely themed, appeal to extra of a drive-in, day tripper demographic from close by areas.
Examples of the latter kind of park would come with the 27 theme and water park properties operated in North America by Grand Prairie, Texas-based Six Flags Leisure Corp. Some smaller but extremely themed parks, corresponding to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, straddle the road between the 2 classes.
(Curiously, Disneyland boasts a world vacation spot park profile however successfully operates as a regional park, drawing most guests from its native southern California market. That stated, the park — at the moment restricted to Californians — reopens to all guests in full on June 15.)
Client spending at Orlando parks has been recovering from final yr’s crash for months, with out-of-state guests opening their wallets greater than Florida residents, Erstad defined.
“I believe it’s a wholesome signal for Disney and the destination-focused operators, in addition to total shopper attraction for theme parks normally this summer season, [and] indicative of customers in search of out this kind of [mostly outdoor] leisure,” he stated.
Florida’s been among the many least restrictive states with regards to pandemic-related regulation, and Orlando space Disney, Common and SeaWorld parks have all been open since final July. Short-term interstate journey restrictions and quarantine necessities tamped down on long-distance demand for just a few months however have been finally eased by year-end.
Whereas curiosity in Disney’s Orlando parks is robust, “highway journeys near house can be very fashionable this summer season for regional theme parks like [Cedar Fair’s] Kings Dominion [and] Cedar Level, Six Flags, Sesame Place, Busch Gardens and Dollywood,” stated Carolyn Moody, an InteleTravel advisor in Durham, North Carolina.
The jury’s really nonetheless out on how regional parks will fare, with an absence of actual knowledge for climate-related and company causes at some venues, Erstad stated.
Cedar Honest Leisure Co., for instance, took 4 of its 11 theme parks within the U.S. and Canada utterly offline for many of 2020, even in jurisdictions that allowed restricted opening with restricted capability, and reduce the working season brief in the remainder. It had simply 487 whole working days in 2020, in comparison with 2,224 in 2019.
“Cedar Honest has taken extra of a conservative method to issues; they have been the primary to announce they’d honor 2020 cross holders into 20201 and took a cognizant choice to take a extra cautious method,” Erstad stated. “It is a bit of too early to take a look at a few of your colder climate parks, though we have been seeing fairly wholesome demand on the parks which might be open.”
This yr, Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Honest plans on opening all its U.S. parks — corresponding to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Level, California, and Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina — by Memorial Day, though Canada’s Wonderland, exterior Toronto, Ontario, will stay closed. The corporate plans to debut sights initially deliberate for 2020 and to spend an extra $100 million on new upgrades this yr, stated president and CEO Richard A. Zimmerman, in a Could 5 assertion, in anticipation of “robust pent-up shopper demand for closer-to-home, out of doors leisure, notably within the yr’s second half.”
“We’re happy with the early main indicators we have now seen to date, and our 2021 working technique is concentrated on maximizing efficiency throughout our seasonally weighted second half of the yr,” he added. “With our park openings proper across the nook, we’re as soon as once more seeing a carry in season cross gross sales.”
Erstad, in the meantime, pointed to Six Flags Nice Journey & Safari in Jackson, New Jersey, as a regional park that opened early within the pandemic and did “extraordinarily nicely final summer season.”
“That was simply attributable to the very fact they’ve the safari attraction, the place you could be in your automobile with your loved ones and socially distant from others,” he famous.
The park, close to New York Metropolis and Philadelphia, reopened its safari final Could 30 to drivers with reservations, after which reopened its theme park portion at 25% capability on July 3. The nice response factors to loads of “pent-up demand,” Erstad stated.
Parks like these of Cedar Honest’s that weren’t open in any respect final yr might even see an preliminary spurt of visits however “I do not know that they are going to see a surge in demand the way in which Disney and a number of the different bigger parks have skilled,” stated Summer time Hull, director of journey content material at web site The Factors Man.
“However I believe that for a number of the individuals who usually take pleasure in going to these spots, this can be the summer season they do get again to them,” she added.
So, when you’ve determined to go to a theme park, what suggestions do journey advisors have?
Moody, a Disney specialist, stated households contemplating theme parks this yr ought to seek the advice of a journey advisor, “who can replace purchasers on the most recent CDC rules, reply any questions, discover one of the best offers, guide every little thing from begin to end. and be a single level of contact all through your journey.”
She additionally recommends reserving journey as early as potential, visiting parks early or late within the day to keep away from crowds, shopping for tickets and remembering to make any required entry reservations, too.
Smith additionally burdened that final level. Whereas Common Orlando by no means required reservations and Six Flags scrapped them at its parks nationwide this month, guests to Walt Disney World parks nonetheless want them — as does anybody visiting any of the newly reopened theme parks in California.
“Even when you purchase the ticket, you are not assured to get into the park that you simply need to go to, as a result of that park could also be booked up with reservations,” she stated.
As soon as within the park, comply with any guidelines on masking and social distancing nonetheless in place — the state of affairs is fluid and might change quickly — however don’t fret an excessive amount of. There haven’t been any reviews of Orlando-area parks changing into Covid hotspots since reopening.
“The theme parks have finished an awesome job of maintaining individuals protected,” stated Smith. “Even with extra individuals being vaccinated, they’re nonetheless taking security under consideration …so I do not suppose there’s going to be an enormous uptick in instances or something.”
The Factors Man’s Hull has been to Walt Disney World thrice because it reopened and stated “it has been a blast.”
“It is largely outdoor they usually’ve finished an awesome job of constructing it really feel enjoyable and on the similar time protected in your individual little ‘Disney bubble,'” she stated.
Even be open to alter. “That is the largest factor,” Smith stated. “Have no plans set in concrete; you have to be a bit of versatile proper now.”
Hull agreed and stated theme park friends who do their homework can have a good time this summer season. “However those that assume it is simply enterprise as regular are going to have just a few surprises awaiting them,” she stated, noting that many elements of bigger vacation spot parks — from motels to eating places to rides — are nonetheless not on-line or working at regular capacities.
“You have to line some stuff up in a means you may not have earlier than and nonetheless go in with tempered expectations for issues round eating, housekeeping and different components which might be nonetheless type of pandemic-era and have not gotten again to regular but.”
(Disclosure: CNBC and Common Parks & Resorts are each subsidiaries of NBCUniversal, owned by mum or dad Comcast.)