All options are on the table for California theme parks as they look for permission to reopen, industry leaders said today in a press conference.
The California Attractions and Parks Association hosted an online briefing with the presidents of Universal Studios Hollywood and the Disneyland and Legoland California resorts, as well as the regional vice president for Cedar Fair's parks in California. The executives were reacting to yesterday's announcement by California Health and Human Service Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly that their parks would not be allowed to reopen until their counties reach the state's Tier 4, or Yellow Tier status, where Covid-19 transmission is "minimal."
"At the heart of it we don't see the guidelines is based in science or facts. We've proven that we can open and operate our park safely and responsibly, and we've designed detailed health and safety protocols that are successfully in practice now in our theme parks in Orlando, Osaka, and Singapore," Universal Studios Hollywood President and COO Karen Irwin said.
"I also think it's a little bit disingenuous for the state to say they've collaborated with parks on these guidelines. Despite being told that we would see reports and feedback following the state's visits to several of our sites in the last couple of weeks, we expected those to be used for the basis of discussion and formulation of rational return to work protocols. That didn't happen. Those reports were never issued, and the guidelines that were released yesterday seem to have ignored, frankly, much of that input," Irwin said.
"The restriction of 25 percent capacity for indoor restaurants at our parks is an example of kind of an arbitrary guideline that contradicts guidance for all other California restaurants that can be seated up to 50 percent in Tier 4, including those just outside of our gate in CityWalk. The insistence that opening our parks will draw guests from outside California ignores the fact that parks are already operating elsewhere and see predominantly local attendance. We all know, and a lot of data supports this, that the international visitation to California is unfortunately not going to return to 2019 levels for many years to come. We're also seeing that the outer U.S. attendance is vastly reduced. And on top of that, Southern California parks, generally rely heavily on local visitors even pre COVID."
Legoland California Resort President Kurt Stocks continued the theme of comparing theme parks to other industries that have been allowed to return in the state.
"If you take a look at similar entertainment venues such as zoos, museums, aquariums, and family entertainment centers — all have been able to open outdoors, and many indoors, since Tier 1 without any distinction between the size of the facility," Stocks said. "I should be clear that we're very pleased that these facilities have been able to open, and I'd have to say that I think they've done a great job in their reopening protocols and how they've delivered their experiences to their guests. We just want the administration to treat us the same as industries of a very similar nature.
"Take a look at [a] very different entertainment venue that the administration is allowing to reopen ahead of amusement parks that are easily higher risk and encourage transmission more than theme parks — beaches. There's no enforcement of physical distancing or face coverings and they regularly draw hundreds of thousands of guests across a weekend from all over. Card rooms and race tracks have been allowed to open their doors in Tier 1 and indoors will be will be allowed to open in Tier 3. Large shopping centers have been opening doors in Tier 1 and by the time they get to Tier 3 they'll be open indoors with absolutely no capacity restrictions whatsoever."
"Theme parks create a 100 percent controlled environment with temperature checks for all guests, mask enforcement, increased sanitization protocols, [and] social distancing measures that far exceed most daily life experiences and any other leisure activities. So we are very much ready to open and we would implore the administration to allow us to do so," Stocks said.
"We really do appreciate the administration's desire to keep transmissions down, by the way — we're not at cross purposes," Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock said. "We believe in that. We're just not aligned on what I call a collaborative and balanced approach that is driven by science and data."
"We really do need to be judicious with with how we're making decisions, and really understand the breadth of the impacts that are happening to so many different people," Potrock said. "We're strongly advocating for science and a real-time database approach to achieve what I think is a holistic and balanced solution. Ultimately, we all want to get people back to work, that getting them back to work helps from a health perspective."
Irwin said that Universal Studios Hollywood has considered reopening food and retail operations in the park in an effort to get some employees back to work, as Knott's Berry Farm has done. "It is something that we are looking into. That should not though, in any way, mitigate for the problem of not having our entire park reopened."
"It's microscopic compared to opening our parks," Potrock said of the affect upon cast employment of having a food and merchandise event at Disney.
"We want to be safe," Cedar Fair Regional Vice President Raffi Kaprelyan said. "We have integrity around that, and to be told that we're not and not able to operate is offensive."
When asked about potential legal action against the state to help reopen parks, CAPA Executive Director California Attractions and Parks Association said, "I think that all options are open at this point. We're going to continue to explore our options. Our number one goal is to be allowed to reopen responsibly. Obviously, we'd love to keep that conversation going and come up with a reasonable timeline for reopening, but at this point, any options are viable."
"The theme park industry is not in an entrenched position," Potrock said. "We are flexible. We are open minded. We are looking for data and science-based solutions. And we stand ready to do that at a moment's notice."
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