Tara Brown, Dr Lorna Thomas and Shola Osinaike look at how theme parks are preparing to re-open to the public post Covid-19 lockdown.

Theme parks across the World are publishing their plans for re-opening. While some in USA and Asia have already opened, theme parks in the UK have a provisional re-opening date of 4th July. 

Like many other businesses, theme parks are having to adapt to the current situation and keep staff and guests safe.  Amended opening hours and reduced capacity have been announced as an operational strategy by Six Flags (CA, USA), Universal Orlando Resort (FL, USA), Efteling (NL), Walt Disney World (FL, USA), Merlin Entertainments’ theme parks Worldwide, including its Legoland parks.

Guests and staff can also expect non-contact temperature checks on arrival and Chessington World of Adventures and Legoland Florida state they will refuse entry to anyone testing over 37.8 °C, along with their party.

Character meet and greets will either be suspended or modified. Walt Disney World in Florida say parades and fireworks may have their access limited or be cancelled.  Markers of one form or another will be on display in their queue lines to show where guests can and can’t stand and Walt Disney World have temporarily cancelled their Fastpass system to increase social distancing. Universal Orlando Resort’s information video shows staff counting empty seats between seating guests on rides and some parks are adopting a one-way system.

Parks have also adopted enhanced cleaning throughout the day, with a focus on high-frequency touchpoints and installed new hand sanitizer stations or handwashing facilities. Staff and guests will also be required to wear facemasks and gloves when asked. Some parks are asking all guests from about six years to wear a facemask and some are asking all above the age of  two. All parks request entrance tickets are booked in advance online.

As the lockdown eases and organisations start to open there is a general acceptance and expectation that social activities, such as visiting theme parks, will have adjusted their operations to be ‘Covid friendly’.  However, the concern facing the industry is that people may be reluctant to return quickly.

Visitors have shared opinions online saying they will not return whilst there are restrictions on the theme park experience.  The idea of not being able to physically hug ‘Mickey’ may put some families off from paying expensive entry tariffs.

For many theme parks employment is seasonal, and training often young temporary staff will provide challenges. Not just operational issues and health and safety, but help dealing with a potentially awkward public who might want to flout the new rules and regulations.  Will visitors be asked to leave the park if their 6-year-old child removes their mask on a very hot day, and which member of staff will be tasked with such a job?

Despite this, the parks will likely be busy with families seeking fun and days out after the lockdown. Theme parks will need to implement and evaluate their protocols continuously to ensure visitor expectations are met, and value for money and safety is ensured. 

Tara Brown is a Christ Church Post Graduate Aluma and current Rides and Attractions Assistant Area Manager for Chessington World of Adventures, Dr Lorna Thomas and Shola Osinaike are Senior Lecturers in Tourism, Events and Hospitality.