Los Angeles County Theme Parks Look to Reopen This Month

June 2, 2020, 11:42 AM · Universal Studios Hollywood President Karen Irwin this morning asked the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for approval to begin immediately the process of reopening theme parks in the county, so that they can begin welcoming guests again by the end of this month or beginning of next month.

Irwin spoke at a meeting of the Los Angeles County Economic Resiliency Task Force. In her presentation, Irwin said that Universal does not expect to see out-of-market visitation return to 2019 levels until 2023. Here is a transcript of her remarks, which include some of the procedures that Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain will follow once the parks get approval to return:

"Theme parks and attractions are positioned to provide a safe primarily outdoor experience for guests and employees. Many people instinctively think that large theme parks and crowds will be the last stage reopened. While this misperception is understandable, theme parks actually offer more controlled environments in places like beaches gardens or even hiking trails. Not only can theme parks provide relief to potential overcrowding of public locations, our capabilities to limit capacity and manage guest flow more effectively provides us with an advantage over those areas. We can reopen theme parks, with modified operating protocols conditions, and to protect our guests and employees by ensuring physical distancing appropriate screening and enhanced sanitation.

"We would like approval to begin reopening the reopening process immediately, in order to get our employees back to work. We're already underway with implementing enhanced safety standards and LA County parks will be ready to begin reopening between the middle of June and July 1. However, we'll need time prior to this for employees to returned to work and to be trained in new safety protocols before opening for guests.

"We prepared extensive detail on the safety measures being integrated to our parks, and we'll work actively before during and after reopening with county health officials to ensure ongoing compliance with evolving guidelines for our guests and employees to remain sufficiently protected.

"Theme parks in Los Angeles County disproportionately serve the local market - 60% of our collective theme park attendance comes from local and outer California areas, driven largely by annual and Season Pass holders. Our marketing insights and demand studies, consistent with LACVB and Visit California, indicate that outer US and international visitation will unfortunately not return to 2019 levels until 2023.

"Notably, both organizations have pulled international advertising dollars and are shifting advertising spend to local travel. The expected recovery that will include much more dependence on the local and California markets well into 2022. Our local theme parks will encourage California residents to stay closer to home. As you know, Arizona is almost fully reopened, and casinos in Las Vegas are beginning to do the same. These are both places that Californians can easily visit and will likely begin doing so. We should provide local options."

"Employees from all our LA County parks are supporting our efforts to reopen. Guests will be able to enjoy entertainment and ride experiences throughout our predominantly outdoor environments, subject to guidelines and managing attendance flows that will eliminate the need for mass queuing and prevent overpopulating any single area. Managed guest flow in our gated attractions will begin with parking and will continue throughout the experience.

"Our employees will be fully trained on new policies and procedures. Modified work and break areas will allow safe and carefully managed environments to ensure employees are protected throughout their workday, and employees who can effectively work from home will continue to do so. Enhanced safety standards for screening, spacing and sanitation are all being implemented. Processes for screening will include guests and team members to screen for symptoms or temperature checks.

"Guests and team members will be encouraged to wear face coverings consistent with CDC, state and local guidance, and all screening information requirements and CDC warnings will be clearly communicated, displayed in prominent areas. To ensure appropriate spacing, reserved or date-specific ticketing and gated parks will enable effective capacity control. Field signage and demarcations throughout the park will encourage physical distancing... and the elimination of single rider lines will help separate groups and families.

"Plexi shields will be installed or eye protection provided to employees where social distancing is impractical, like specific points of sale and retail and food and beverage. Seating plans for all food and beverage locations will be reduced appropriately. Reduced capacity or elimination of physical queuing will help ensure continuous flow while maintaining safe distancing. Separate capacity controls for all attractions food and beverage and retail locations will also be implemented, and one-way foot traffic will be established, with reduced face-to-face contact wherever practical.

"Updated sanitation protocols will include daily deep cleaning of all areas, and frequent extensive disinfection of heavily touched high traffic services. Signage will be placed appropriately to encourage guests to follow CDC hygiene recommendations. Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the parks, including at the entry and exit of every attraction retail and food location.

"Doors will be propped open for touchless access wherever possible. Touchless purchasing capabilities will be fully leveraged, and mobile ordering and touchless or disposable menus will be available."

Supervisor Janice Hahn pressed Irwin to provide a specific percentage number for the limited capacity at the parks. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell responded:

"In Orlando, we're opening at a capacity max of 35%. But the 35% is a little bit of a fake number because some attractions where you have individual cars and you can put parties apart safely, you can get to 50% capacity, and some on attractions, like a theater show indoors, you really can't open it all. So what you have to do is, you have to go ride by ride by ride. Then add it all up, and the number in Orlando happens to add up to 35%. Right now we're not allowing anybody to come in the park after it gets to 35%.

"There's another important factor there, too, if you've been to a theme park which hopefully everybody has been. There's all sorts of places that are worrisome, like for example, restrooms. You know, my, my wife went to Descanso Gardens last week and noticed that people were crowded into the restrooms. So even they were even though they were distanced throughout the gardens, the restroom wasn't being monitored. At our theme parks, we're going to allow one party at a time into the restroom. It's one thing to have a certain amount of people in the park, but if you have a long line in the restroom, that's not going to work.

"So if you're looking for a number, 35% is a good number to start but it's really going to depend on literally ride by ride, restroom by restroom, how we can open safely and ensure that people have have very little chance of getting sick."

The task force this morning heard presentations from the sports, business, restaurant, and filmed entertainment segments as well as theme parks. The recommendations go to the LA County Board of Supervisors, which is will modify or lift local stay-at-home orders, subject to approval from California's governor.

Los Angeles County regulations would apply to Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm are located in adjoining Orange County.

Replies (1)

June 3, 2020 at 1:38 PM

It's going to be difficult to enforce social distancing when elected officials have just spent an extended amount of time, telling people they "understand" and support them gathering in groups of 2 and 3 thousand (in some cases more) people who are yelling, screaming and voluntarily standing shoulder to shoulder with each other. Almost every Elected official in Southern and Northern Calif and all over the country for that matter. So this problem is going to apply for every theme park. Aside from the destruction of the jobs of the middle and lower class that has occurred in the last week (cheered on by elected officials and many types of media reporters), this is going to be a huge COVID enforcement issue for theme parks everywhere. Our country has also just set a negative example for the whole world and causing some other countries to social distance less as well. What happened to George Floyd was an extremely tragic event. But our countries over reaction to it has compounded the damage. Many black officers and black people have been murdered by the rioters, even for people who don't care about the death of other races.

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