Here is the current, proposed line-up for theme park reopenings in the United States:
Are you ready to head back to the parks yet? Reopening plans are creating a new mix of excitement and anxiety among fans. For me, I've tried to avoid labeling any reopening announcement as "good news." Who knows yet if these reopenings will turn out to be good for society... or a horrible mistake? For now, the announcements are just "news." History will judge them later.
So how do I react? It's my job to offer insight on this stuff, and I've been interviewed for my reaction by CNN, The New York Times, CTV (Canada), NPR, the Orlando Sentinel, and multiple TV stations in Central Florida since the announcements began. (I declined to appear on Fox News, because, screw them.) But Theme Park Insider is my home, and you deserve here the most in-depth perspective that I can offer.
Let's start with this. The United States has managed this pandemic horribly. Yes, the response has varied from state to state, given the almost complete lack of federal leadership in this crisis, but we're talking about varying degrees of bad here. More than 100,000 dead in less than three months condemns us all.
States and communities did the right thing to issue stay-at-home orders when it became clear that the virus was circulating untracked in their communities. But we've squandered the past two-plus months in social isolation, as no community in the United States has implemented the universal testing and tracking program necessary to fight this virus in the absence of a vaccine. Fighting Covid-19 demands leadership at a higher pay grade than the people who work at groceries, restaurants, and theme parks.
Public health 101 in an outbreak to test as many people as possible who might have been exposed (which is all of us at this point), isolate those who test positive, track those who've been in contact with someone positive, and then isolate those persons until testing clears them. It's the best, most proven way to starve the virus of new potential victims.
Without universal testing, we're just playing the odds. Fortunately, we've learned much over the past couple months about how this new coronavirus spreads, helping us to learn the best strategies for protecting ourselves and others in public. The primary method of transmission now appears to be through the air, but the virus can live on surfaces and people without symptoms can spread the virus. That's led to the development of the new operational procedures we've seen parks adopting: social distancing, wearing masks that cover your mouth and nose, and more frequent cleaning and hand-washing.
But the best thing that people can do to protect themselves remains staying at home, which is why I suspect that the majority of Americans will not be taking trips to theme parks or other vacation destinations this year, whether they reopen or not. And that will create severe economic problems for the industry not just this year, but for years to come.
How ironic that it's under the leadership of leaders who most loudly proclaim themselves to be "pro-business" that we so often see the biggest business disasters. Will we ever learn that the best way to grow an economy is from the bottom up, paying workers and protecting public health?
As for theme parks, let's give them credit for doing all that they can to try to create the safest possible environment for their guests who choose to visit during this pandemic. I would not be surprised if some seasonal parks ran the numbers and decided to skip 2020 rather than incur start-up costs they could not recoup during a shortened season with limited attendance. But the year-round parks will be back, if for no other reason than to show capital markets that they can, and will, survive this economic catastrophe.
As the biggest tourist attraction in America, Walt Disney World wisely is deferring to other attractions to open first, enabling a gradual ramp-up of the industry. Among top-20 attendance parks, Universal Orlando is running point in opening first, helped perhaps by its parent company's decision not to furlough its full-time employees, keeping them available to plan and move more swiftly toward a return.
Reopening will not be instant. Parks have to print up countless signs, install making tape, hang plastic sheeting, then recall and retrain employees to operate in many ways counter to the training they were given in the past. The days of "keep up with the party in front of you" and "fill in all available space" spiels are over. So might the days of things going terribly wrong, because they already have.
Theme parks long have promoted themselves as an escape. But there is no escape from Covid-19 — not while many of America's leaders see this pandemic as an opportunity to impose authoritarianism rather than protect the public. Yet we need not escape the pandemic to find some peace, some rest, and some joy within our lives as we endure it.
Theme parks can provide that. So if you want to go visit a park this year — go. Yet if you feel more comfortable staying at home — stay. Enjoy our coverage, our videos, and our community while you await your next trip.
Your choice, whatever it is, is the correct one... just so long as you follow a park's rules if you do visit. Thank you for your time and attention during this crisis. It's been my pleasure to bring you the news, and I hope that you will continue to read - and recommend - Theme Park Insider as we move into this next chapter in the industry's history.Tweet
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