Creativity Helps Keep Some of California's Theme Parks Open

September 29, 2020, 4:50 PM · This pandemic has tested the ability of theme parks and other attractions to operate in unprecedented environments. Requirements to maintain safe physical distancing trashed long-established procedures designed to put as many people as possible through rides, shows, shops, and restaurants in any given amount of time. Closed borders have gutted years of promotion to develop international markets. And orders to keep parks closed for weeks and — in some states — months have challenged some companies' ability to remain out of bankruptcy.

And yet... creativity drives the theme park business, and this year has illustrated that like no other. Parks have developed advance reservation and virtual queue systems to manage guest flow while accommodating as many people as safely possible. Marketing has pivoted to target locals over tourists. And in California and other states where theme parks cannot reopen, parks have found creative ways to keep income flowing.

The state's refusal to issue reopening guidance has not stopped SeaWorld San Diego, Knott's Berry Farm, Legoland California, and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom from opening their gates to guests. Theme parks might be closed officially in the state of California, but the creative leaders in the theme park industry will find ways to stay in business.

Zoos can reopen? Fine, the SeaWorld and Discovery Kingdom can allow paying customers in to see their animal exhibits. Outdoor dining is okay? It's time for a food festival at Knott's Berry Farm. Outdoor museums can welcome guests? Then Legoland California's Miniland is open for hotel and Big Shop customers.

So what about the other parks? Six Flags Magic Mountain is in Los Angeles County, which has been slower to reopen than Knott's Orange County or SeaWorld's and Legoland's San Diego County, due to a higher rate of Covid cases. That's put Magic Mountain a bit on the back foot when it comes to having flexibility to take advantage of rules allowing other segments to resume operations. But I would not be surprised to see Six Flags Magic Mountain announce a special, limited-operation event of its own if approval to reopen the entire park does not come soon.

That leaves Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, among the state's top theme park destinations. Yes, both have shopping and dining districts that have reopened to welcome guests. But both Disneyland and Universal have remained focused on getting state approval for their parks to reopen, rather than trying to pull together any type of limited operation special event inside their parks' gates.

Both companies are part of multi-billion-dollar entertainment conglomerates that can ride out this closure more effectively than independent theme park companies such as Six Flags, SeaWorld, and Knott's owner Cedar Fair. But both Disney and Universal this month have announced layoffs of thousands of their employees, so I can't help but wonder of some of those dismissed workers might be wishing that Disney or Universal had tried to pull off a food festival or something.

Replies (1)

September 30, 2020 at 9:06 AM

6FDK sends me a bring a friend free offer about every weekend, but have yet to go. Maybe when cooler, but really not sure if being surrounded by coasters I can't ride will be a fun afternoon.

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