Guests Excited to Return to Parks
The pandemic disrupted virtually everybody and everything—including parks and attractions. The 2020 season was challenging at best as parks and visitors struggled with lockdowns, capacity restrictions, social distancing guidelines, and other measures designed to address the threat and uncertainty imposed by COVID-19.
With the widespread rollout of vaccinations and improved conditions in the U.S., however, things are looking up for 2021. Recent polls indicate that Americans are comfortable—excited even—to visit attractions this summer. After being cooped up at home and experiencing things digitally, people are apparently looking forward to really zooming on roller coasters. With pent-up consumer demand translating into attendance and sales, parks are optimistic for a good season.
According to Morning Consult’s Return to Normal tracker, 49% of U.S. adults indicated they would be comfortable visiting an amusement park in a poll conducted on June 20. The ongoing study registered a low of 19% for the metric on Jan. 2 and has since continued to rise steadily throughout the year. As a subgroup, parents were at a 53% comfort level in the tracker’s latest figures.
For the same survey, 47% of adults said they were “very” or “somewhat” excited to visit a park. That level of intent bodes well for the industry. Generation Z and millennial respondents were especially excited to return to parks, registering 58% and 55%, respectively. Indicating a general desire to flee the COVID-19 coop, 68% of adults indicated they plan to travel this summer in another Morning Consult poll.
Attractions Report Progress
Impacted by the pandemic, Cliff’s Amusement Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was closed for the entire 2020 season. The park, therefore, can’t make year-over-year comparisons. But Justin Hays, the park’s general manager, doesn’t think that there’s been much difference thus far in attendance compared to 2019 or other “normal” years.
“I think most folks are over having a fear of going out and doing things, at least here in New Mexico,” he says. Just as significantly, Hays notes that spending is strong. “We’re not doing any discounting this year, but people are coming. That’s a great indicator.”
Hays’ anecdotal observations correlate to information released by Cardify. The data insights firm reports that spending at arcades and amusement parks has almost returned to prepandemic levels, besting concerts and events, as well as movie theaters. Likewise, 72% of consumers surveyed by Cardify indicated that they are excited to return to amusement parks after the pandemic, exceeding movie theaters along with bars and clubs.
Cory Hutchinson, vice president and general manager of Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco, Maine, says he can sense the excitement this season. The park is having a banner year and thus far is up from 2019, he notes. Like Cliff’s, Funtown remained closed for all of 2020. “For the most part, it feels like we didn’t miss a beat,” Hutchinson says. “We are as busy as we would have been any other summer.”
Staffing Woes Limit Operating Hours
After struggling through an abbreviated season last year, there’s good news and bad news at Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, New Jersey. Based on the demand and attendance he has seen thus far, Will Morey, president and CEO, says that “there is every indication of a strong summer.” Also fueling his optimism is the strong demand that hotels and vacation homes throughout the Jersey Shore tourist town are reporting. Revenue at the complex of amusement piers and water parks is on track compared to 2019 as well. “And 2019 was a good year for us,” Morey adds.
The bad news is that Morey’s Piers is having trouble meeting the demand due to a staffing shortage.
“Of all the ironies, we were not planning for the labor market to be structurally broken right now. A lot will depend on whether we can staff, open, and collect revenue,” says Morey.
Nonetheless, the CEO is thankful for the demand. He is also thankful that there is price elasticity among visitors who are eager to return to the boardwalk and have fun. “There’s plenty of opportunity,” Morey says. “It’s just a matter of assembling the team to make the most of it.”
A Silver Lining
As with most parks, Cliff’s is also experiencing staffing challenges. But Hays notes one positive fallout from the pandemic: reservations. Following regulatory guidelines to limit capacity, the New Mexico park developed and implemented a reservation system. Subsequently, the policies were revised, and attendance caps were lifted. The park left the reservations system in place, however.
Calling it a blessing, Hays says his team is using the new system to help control crowds and spread attendance to days other than Saturday, which has traditionally attracted the most visitors. Given the staffing difficulties, it’s beneficial to know, with a high degree of accuracy, how many people will be at the park on any given day. Hays says it’s likely the reservation system will remain even after this year.