detailed the financial losses that theme park owners have taken over the past year. But I think an easier way to see the impact of the coronavirus - at a glance - is with Google Trends.How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected theme parks? You can look for the answer in corporate reports, which have
Google tracks how much people search for specific terms over time. You can see that data by looking up those terms on the Google Trends page. I decided to look at several top theme park terms from the beginning of 2019 to the end of 2020 to see how the pandemic affected how often people were searching for them.
Let's start with the global leader in theme parks - Walt Disney World.
Google reports its search data on a relative basis. So the week that got the most searches for a term is given the value of 100. Other weeks' data are reported relative to that top week. You can see the spike in searches for "walt disney world" during the week in March 2020 when the resort announced its closure. But search activity since then has remained far below what it was before the pandemic hit.
You can see the cliff effect even more pronounced on searches for Universal Orlando.
And for Disneyland, which presumably captures searches within the United States for the Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai parks as well as the Anaheim original. Again, there's a spike when the parks close, followed by a new equilibrium far below the old.
For seasonal parks, you do not see a huge change immediately before and after last March, but you can see that the swell in search traffic that happened in the summer of 2019 does not return in 2020. Here are searches for Six Flags.
And for Busch Gardens.
It's the same story for SeaWorld.
I also looked at search data for the phrase "roller coasters" to get a more generic overview of interest. Again, there's a swell in the spring and early summer of 2019 that does not return in 2020.
This Google Trends data suggest that the public's interest in theme parks has waned since the pandemic started and that it has not yet recovered, despite parks being reopened in Orlando and other markets around the world. Lagging interest in even the reopened Orlando parks suggests that the industry is not facing a situation where "if you reopen it, they will come."
Sure, industry leaders can assume that public interest in theme parks will return once more of the population is vaccinated, Covid-19 infections and deaths decline and more people begin to feel confident about traveling safely again. But let's not forget that many parks laid off their promotional staff and canceled advertising and press events when the pandemic hit.
We have continued covering the industry here on Theme Park Insider, and I still write my newspaper column every week for the Orange County Register. But search data demonstrate that theme parks have fallen off the radar for many casual fans who turned first to Google for theme park information before Covid-19. As we have seen with the Orlando parks, it's going to take more than simply reopening the gates for the industry to win back those potential visitors' interest.
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