Social media personalities Dixie D’Amelio and Noah Beck at Disney California Journey Park on the Disneyland Resort on Might 2, 2021 in Anaheim, California.
Handout | Getty Photos Leisure | Getty Photos
The Covid pandemic made the previous 14 months a literal curler coaster of a journey 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 delay some prospects and positively dented the enjoyable issue for others.
This is a take 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 properly 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 had been rolling income again into much-hyped, big-budget new points of interest 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.
Individuals have not forgotten these debuts had been within the pipeline.
“Loads of households are opting into going to theme parks this yr,” mentioned Trish Smith, a Kansas Metropolis, Missouri-based journey advisor affiliated with the InteleTravel community of home-based brokers. “I’ve truly had extra bookings at this level this yr than I did in 2019.
“There are such a lot of new points of interest coming that lots of people are like, ‘Yeah, I do not wish to miss out on that, and I wish to be the primary,'” she added.
Demand is very pent-up in California, the place parks did not reopen till this April.
In reality, Michael Erstad, senior analyst, client for analysis agency M Science, mentioned theme parks may see a return to former attendance ranges as quickly as subsequent yr. “I actually assume it is a chance,” he mentioned. “It’ll all rely how issues go along with the virus for the remainder of the yr.
“I would not depend [a rebound] out.”
Client knowledge insights agency Cardify has discovered, unsurprisingly, that theme parks noticed a giant drop in client spending final yr however “had been capable of recuperate a bit” by final summer season by reopening with capability restrictions. Now that cities and states are stress-free 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 shoppers 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 significantly better spot” relative to cinemas, cruises, air journey, lodges and different leisure choices, mentioned Erstad at M Science.
As at ski resorts, at theme parks “a whole lot of the expertise is outside,” he mentioned, and subsequently much less dangerous by way of publicity. “You do queue up for rides, however over the past yr they’ve made enhancements to enhance the buying selections for meals and beverage so that you do a whole lot of issues electronically.”
So, the place are thrill-seekers headed?
There are basically two theme park markets within the U.S., though there’s some crossover between them. Massive vacation spot parks — akin 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, entice extra of a drive-in, day tripper demographic from close by areas.
Examples of the latter sort 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, akin to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, straddle the road between the 2 classes.
(Apparently, 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 mentioned, 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 feel it’s a wholesome signal for Disney and the destination-focused operators, in addition to general client enchantment for theme parks basically this summer season, [and] indicative of shoppers in search of out this kind of [mostly outdoor] leisure,” he mentioned.
Florida’s been among the many least restrictive states relating to pandemic-related regulation, and Orlando space Disney, Common and SeaWorld parks have all been open since final July. Non permanent interstate journey restrictions and quarantine necessities tamped down on long-distance demand for a couple of months however had been finally eased by year-end.
Whereas curiosity in Disney’s Orlando parks is powerful, “highway journeys near residence shall be highly regarded this summer season for regional theme parks like [Cedar Fair’s] Kings Dominion [and] Cedar Level, Six Flags, Sesame Place, Busch Gardens and Dollywood,” mentioned Carolyn Moody, an InteleTravel advisor in Durham, North Carolina.
The jury’s truly nonetheless out on how regional parks will fare, with a scarcity of actual knowledge for climate-related and company causes at some venues, Erstad mentioned.
Cedar Truthful 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 quick in the remainder. It had simply 487 whole working days in 2020, in comparison with 2,224 in 2019.
“Cedar Truthful has taken extra of a conservative method to issues; they had 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 mentioned. “It is somewhat too early to have a look at a few of your colder climate parks, though we have been seeing fairly wholesome demand on the parks which can be open.”
This yr, Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Truthful plans on opening all its U.S. parks — akin 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 points of interest initially deliberate for 2020 and to spend an extra $100 million on new upgrades this yr, mentioned president and CEO Richard A. Zimmerman, in a Might 5 assertion, in anticipation of “robust pent-up client demand for closer-to-home, outside leisure, significantly within the yr’s second half.”
“We’re happy with the early main indicators we now have seen up to now, and our 2021 working technique is targeted 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 properly final summer season.”
“That was simply attributable to the actual fact they’ve the safari attraction, the place you might be in your automotive with your loved ones and socially distant from others,” he famous.
The park, close to New York Metropolis and Philadelphia, reopened its safari final Might 30 to drivers with reservations, after which reopened its theme park portion at 25% capability on July 3. The nice response factors to a whole lot of “pent-up demand,” Erstad mentioned.
Parks like these of Cedar Truthful’s that weren’t open in any respect final yr may even see an preliminary spurt of visits however “I do not know that they will see a surge in demand the way in which Disney and a few of the different bigger parks have skilled,” mentioned Summer time Hull, director of journey content material at web site The Factors Man.
“However I feel that for a few of the individuals who usually get pleasure from going to these spots, this can be the summer season they do get again to them,” she added.
So, for those who’ve determined to go to a theme park, what suggestions do journey advisors have?
Moody, a Disney specialist, mentioned households contemplating theme parks this yr ought to seek the advice of a journey advisor, “who can replace purchasers on the most recent CDC laws, reply any questions, discover the perfect offers, guide all the things from begin to end. and be a single level of contact all through your journey.”
She additionally recommends reserving journey as early as attainable, 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 harassed 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 for those who purchase the ticket, you are not assured to get into the park that you simply wish to go to, as a result of that park could also be booked up with reservations,” she mentioned.
As soon as within the park, observe any guidelines on masking and social distancing nonetheless in place — the state of affairs is fluid and may change quickly — however don’t fret an excessive amount of. There haven’t been any studies of Orlando-area parks turning into Covid hotspots since reopening.
“The theme parks have executed an excellent job of preserving individuals protected,” mentioned Smith. “Even with extra individuals being vaccinated, they’re nonetheless taking security into consideration …so I do not assume there’s going to be a giant uptick in circumstances or something.”
The Factors Man’s Hull has been to Walt Disney World 3 times because it reopened and mentioned “it has been a blast.”
“It is largely outside they usually’ve executed an excellent job of creating it really feel enjoyable and on the identical time protected in your personal little ‘Disney bubble,'” she mentioned.
Even be open to alter. “That is the largest factor,” Smith mentioned. “Have no plans set in concrete; you have to be somewhat versatile proper now.”
Hull agreed and mentioned theme park company who do their homework could have a good time this summer season. “However those that assume it is simply enterprise as ordinary are going to have a couple of surprises awaiting them,” she mentioned, noting that many components of bigger vacation spot parks — from lodges to eating places to rides — are nonetheless not on-line or working at regular capacities.
“You have to line some stuff up in a method you won’t have earlier than and nonetheless go in with tempered expectations for issues round eating, housekeeping and different parts which can 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.)