Yesterday we were sent some pictures of Lagoon Park in Utah by a friend, always excited to get pictures of parks, especially during this time when so few of them are open.
Sadly, what I saw in these pictures made me upset more than anything, and I'll try and explain why.
Whether you choose to believe it or not, we are in the middle of a global pandemic.
Whether you refuse to believe it or not, the numbers from that pandemic are going up, while we are opening more and more things.
Whether you want to believe it or not, wearing a face covering and social distancing from others as much as possible DOES help.
Now, I will say, we've been getting conflicting information from the WHO and CDC since this began, with disastrous results. Not because they aren't doing their jobs, but people (as a whole) don't really understand how science, and testing of a new disease works.
See, we are still learning about the virus. So at first we over-prepare and over-compensate. And then as we learn more information about that virus, that information gets released. That means that what was said in March doesn't necessarily apply in June. And what is said now won't necessarily apply in October.
And now, RIGHT NOW, the experts are saying that wearing a face covering and social distancing are the way to go.
So if you want things to open up, and we ALL do, then the VERY LEAST we can do is to wear a face covering and try to social distance as much as possible.
So we'll start this off with a graphic of current COVID-19 cases in Utah.
Not pretty, right? And I'm not trying to pick on Utah here because the numbers are going up everywhere, but ouch.
And here are the pictures from Lagoon Park. Yesterday. June 10th. Two Days after they saw their highest number of cases. Ever.
You can click the images, and try and find the people wearing face coverings. I noticed 2. In all of the pictures.
Folks, this is not the way.
If you want things to open, this is not the way.
If you want to get back to what some may call a "normal" life, this is not the way.
If you really do care about "all lives", this is not the way.
And of course, with the numbers going up some are already blaming this on protests. Look at the pictures from those protests. You probably have 95% of people wearing face coverings. In the same summer heat as Lagoon Park, and sometimes much hotter.
If people who are protesting for something as important as Black Lives Matter, and are able to wear a face covering, the VERY LEAST you can do is wear one on a roller coaster.
Do I like wearing a face coverings? Hardly. I have asthma. It's not the easiest thing in the world. But I even take one with me when I run. Because I'm trying to be courteous to my fellow humans. And that's all anybody is really asking for.
So when these parks and other places do start to open, and face coverings are required, don't yell at the front line employees or cast members. They aren't the ones making these decisions. The decisions are being made at the very highest levels in an attempt to keep everybody safe.
And please, smaller parks, take a look at your policies regarding face coverings. And maybe start requiring them. Because, as I've said all along, an outbreak traced back to one theme park, is bad for all theme parks.
Are face coverings 100% effective, do they know 100% of the science behind it? No way. And if the experts say something different about face coverings in a few months, we'll try that too.
But the least we can do is try to do the right thing in these uncertain times.
- Gregg Condon: Editor in Chief
June 13th Update. Lagoon Park has updated their park policy regarding masks and now require them in queue lines. You can read those details at the link below.
To this point, we've kind of avoided getting into the "theme parks are going to open on such and such a date" conversation. And I'm not really going to get into that here.
I just wanted to do a quick post and tell you why theme park openings are not "imminent", despite 100 articles telling you they are.
Written by Gregg Condon
Update 5/20/2020: California Theme Parks
Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on May 6th. This order states that if you report to your employer's worksite between March 19th and July 5th, and get COVID-19, you can file a workers compensation claim.
So what do I think this means? The VERY EARLIEST parks could open in California would be July 15th. Why do I say that? Because you have to get the parks up and running. And with this order parks aren't going to want to bring in staff to train/get the parks ready until at least July 6th. Workers compensation claims aren't easy or cheap to file.
You can see all of the details about this executive order here.
Be sure to check out the rest of my opinions about theme parks opening from April below.
Imminent: ready to take place - happening soon
Even if parks in (insert state here) got the go ahead to start reopening today there is still a laundry list of things that must be done before they could actually open.
Rehiring of staff:
Staff has been furloughed in many cases, let go in others. Anybody with any kind of HR experience will tell you that it's much quicker to tell people to leave than to get them to come back. Some employees may be sick. Some may have gone home to stay with parents (WDW College Program anybody?). Some employees may simply feel that it's not safe for them to do so.
Hiring of new staff to replace staff that aren't coming back:
There will be some staff that aren't coming back. Some may have found other work. Others may just choose to stay away. That means hiring new people. Including background checks. Drug testing. You want to know how much stress medical labs are under right now? You think drug testing is their highest priority?
Retraining of existing staff:
Do you really want people coming back to work without having done that job for 2 months? What about the new guidelines they'll have to follow in order to actually reopen. That requires training. That means being in close contact with each other before the parks even open. And this doesn't even take into consideration training for the plethora of new attractions that are ready to open.
Training of new staff:
In addition to the retraining of existing staff, you have to train all of your new staff. But what if all of your trainers are busy training the existing staff in their new guidelines? Not a whole lot of time to do this.
You want to eat right? Food orders must be placed. But wait, food distribution for commercial businesses needs to restart too. I'm sure you've all seen the reports of crops being pretty much destroyed right now because there is no place to send this stuff. Or of the massive outbreaks of Covid-19 at meat processing plants. That's not something that is just going to ramp up quickly.
Testing of Rides:
Depending on the state, and how long the parks have been closed, some may require state inspection. Do you know how many inspectors there are? Are they going to actually be back at work? And what about those new rides? They must go through all of their testing and inspection guidelines prior to opening.
Right now the "preliminary" guidelines that came out for Florida parks are talking about 50% capacity in the parks. Do you know many businesses that can actually survive on 50% of their income? While paying all of their employees? And all of the other utilities that come along with running a theme park? Will it even be worth it for parks to open at reduced capacity?
Outbreak traced back to theme parks:
We've gone this far down and haven't even talked about the elephant in the room yet. What if, after let's say, Magic Kingdom opens and a mass outbreak is traced back to them. That is bad for the ENTIRE Theme Park industry. Consumer confidence is low right now. You get bad news out of a theme park and it goes even lower. Theme park companies know this.
Will people actually want to go?
At the end of the day, parks are going to do what they feel is best. And people are going to do what they feel is best. We're in a "theme park fan bubble". Where we are seeing our fellow fans eager to go back to the parks. But we are a very small percentage of overall attendance. Sure, we've seen people pack beaches over the past few weeks, but that's way cheaper than visiting a theme park. Will the "general public" actually feel safe going back to theme parks right now?
So when do I think parks are going to open? When we start getting emails from parks with dates they will open. That's when. Anything more than that right now is speculation.
But even when parks get the go-ahead to open, it doesn't mean they are going to open the next day. There is going to be a delay even then. And I think we all need to be prepared for that.
Share your thoughts below. Am I totally off-base here or am I making even a little bit of sense?
Over the past few days, we have seen the annual numbers and reports from the two largest domestic theme park companies in the USA - Cedar Fair & Six Flags Inc.
(Note: Disney does not qualify as it is a multi-tiered corporation of which the theme parks are only a part of a much larger equation.)
It is a tale of woe and WHOA.
Let's look at the two companies in comparison first:
In essence, Cedar Fair is roughly 1/2 the number of parks overall... and yet generating nearly the same operating revenues as Six Flags. In addition, they are making more money per person in the parks that Six Flags is, and with significantly higher attendance per park overall.
Cedar Fairs numbers for the year were spectacular, featuring attendance, revenue and overall spending leaps across the board. In essence: Almost every park in their chain saw growth in attendance, and more importantly, in long-term overall growth of the pass-holder base. Organic (Ticketed/non-pass-holder) ticket growth was up 12% - a huge leap in itself.
Six Flags had nearly the opposite: While there was a <very> modest growth overall in attendance (less than 2%) they were hit with a double-whammy of lower per-capita spend, and even lower renewal of season passes and in their membership programs. Overall, their attendance was down at many parks, notably in part due to the delays in opening several key attractions in their chain, as well as lack of new-attendance spending in other markets. Organic (Ticketed/non-pass-holder) ticket growth dropped by 4% overall.
As I had said a few weeks back, the situation at Six Flags Inc is in seriously bad shape. Facing some fiscal indigestion that is getting worse by the year, as well as all new leadership at the company, we are seeing a frustrating and almost impossible to deal with future growth position. Their new president, Mike Spanos has been handed the reigns of a company which has some severe problems from the ground up - and has been forced by the previous administration there to make some very difficult calls - such as slashing the dividend payouts by 75%, and looking at a future which at best will see the company shrink to try and stave off bankruptcy filing.
Cedar Fair on the other hand has paved a road of gold and is looking to immerse guests further in the next few years. Richard Zimmerman's changes overall have been beneficial in growing the base, as well as growing the future of the company via more guest-friendly experiences, and to bring a new personality to each of the regional parks in the system. While their 2020 park spend is primarily in re-inventing their water parks at most of their parks, clues are already dropping that 2021 will see some new blockbuster attractions at some of their parks - notably Kings Dominion. In addition, the arrival of two new wholly-owned water parks (formerly Schlitterbahn parks) gives them new facing in Texas - a market currently dominated by Six Flags Inc & Sea World Entertainment. A very strong revenue growth in their hotel properties - and the addition of hotels at both Carowinds and Canada's Wonderland is showing very promising growth in non-core revenues, further stabilizing the company fiscally.
It is clear that both companies are on very different courses - and that one has paid out handsomely and the other brought the company to the brink of failure.
I won't go into the course changes needed at SFInc. I covered that in my previous analysis of the company a few weeks back. I will say this: Looking at their current vision for 2020, the outlook is not pretty. Spanos has predicted a soft year financially, and a challenging one due to the mistakes of the past. He has a job on his hands which will require extensive re-think of the company, a revisiting to their roots, and an ability to turn the company around with little on hand to do it with. They need fresh ideas and new concepts, and not re-hashes of what they've been staring at for the past decade.
(I have a long list, Mr. Spanos, of things which you need to be doing right now... you know where to find me.)
R.D. Dewberry 2/22/20