Future of Amusement Parks and Haunted Attractions After COVID-19 Pandemic
The impact of COVID-19 will likely be the defining story of 2020, if not potentially the next decade. While America and the world will recover, there will be a noticeable change in societal normality. While it will take some time to get used to the new normal, amusement and theme parks will have to embrace the new society quickly in order to strive in a changed world. While rides, shows, and coasters will still be around in the future, parks will need to change how they operate. Some of the potential solutions to these challenges could end up benefiting guests, parks, and employees alike. After COVID-19 passes, parks will begin reopening to entertain the masses seeking fun and excitement after the “stay-at-home” orders expire. We expect to see an instant flux in attendance and revenue just from people wanting to “get out of the house” after being cooped up.
One immediate change in the nature of the amusement parks will be a focus on cleanliness. While parks strive to provide a clean environment for guests and workers alike, additional sanitization will be a necessity due to the COVID-19 crisis. This may include scheduled times to disinfect rides, surfaces, and seating areas. Furthermore, we may see parks incorporate more white facades and decorations to buildings and structures to create the perception of cleanliness. This technique was common in the early twentieth century-when widespread diseases were more common, and it was used in many parks such as Coney Island’s Luna Park.
Now is the perfect time for parks to utilize virtual queue systems to provide safe social distancing. Although these systems have received mixed reviews, in an age where “social distancing” has been the rhetoric of government officials during the crisis, having several thousand people line up in a cramped line would be perceived in poor taste. Implementing a virtual queue system offers many advantages while allowing parks to determine how their crews are doing compared to the maximum capacity set for a ride.
Another way parks could potentially manage the challenges brought on by “social distancing” is the use of restraint and seat belt sensors. In some rides, there are numerous sensors on each restraint to check if the restraint is closed. If one sensor doesn’t register that it is closed, the seat will show as unlocked on the screen by the operator at the ride’s control panel. This allows ride-ops to quickly check restraints, preventing delays. It also reduces the interaction between guests and ride-ops. Less delays equals faster throughput and higher ride capacity.
Merging food purchases and meal deals into park apps may be another way to control crowds. By enabling a guest to order the meal of choice via app, the park can prevent crowded lines in restaurants. Additionally, combining both ride and food virtual queues into the same app, the preparation of food can be timed to guests getting on and off of rides. By using the app and not having to wait in lines, this would increase positive customer experience by maximizing their time spent at the park.
As the “stay at home” orders keep being pushed further into the summer, many haunted attractions around the world are already implementing plans for post COVID-19. Haunted houses are currently creating safety plans not only for guests, but for cast and crew as well. Much like amusement parks, haunted houses are a seasonal operation between mid-September through the end of October. Many implement volunteers while others offer paid positions. This may create some issues with staffing as paid cast members could lose their unemployment benefits to work seasonally at a haunt.
Makeup and costuming departments will see some major changes for 2020 as well. Often, these departments are in small rooms or confined areas. Casting directors will likely have to stagger times for actors to get ready, controlling who and when they come in and out of the space. The use of lockers can keep cast members’ belongings separate from others reducing cross contamination. Lounge areas might include metal or plastic furniture that can be sanitized nightly. The days of swapping characters nightly will probably be greatly reduced as actors will likely have a specific role for the entire season. Costumes should be created with laundry safe fabrics, and will likely incorporate masks and gloves to protect both actors and guests. For characters without masks, haunts can use airbrush makeup to eliminate the use of sponges, brushes, and makeup palettes, all of which could cause cross contamination between actors.
As for the scenes and set design within the attractions, guests will likely see minimal changes at most venues. With the population of most states being ordered to stay home, haunt owners and builders do not have the manpower, time, or funds to complete major construction before September. We expect to see less actors and more animations and gags in place — which can actually be a good thing. Not everyone enjoys actors breathing down their neck, some guests just like to see all the neat animations and sets. This opens the door for mid-week or daytime lights on tours without actors — as its a great way to add revenue whether it be with show lights or overhead work lights.
After we spoke with few professional haunt owners, some said that they are considering using virtual queue lines while others are swapping out giant congregated midways with sleek timed ticketing options.
We caught up with Brett Hays; President of the Haunted Attraction Association and owner of Fear Fair Haunted House in Seymour, Indiana. He said although it’s a bit early to speculate on some things, his crew will be going the extra mile to make Fear Fair safe this year.
“We are adding hand sanitizer all over our facility for guests as well as our cast and crew. As far as the show itself, we are taking extra precautions and eliminating any cloth flaps hanging between scenes that guests have to push through”. Hays continued saying “Right now, we’re in the process of removing our claustrophobia squeeze tunnels. Our team is also investigating using hand held infrared thermometers to check temperatures as guest arrive. Our number one priority is safety and we strive to provide everyone, including our staff, with a fun and safe experience”.
Large scale theme park events such as Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights will certainly have some unique challenges ahead. We will just have to wait and see how the environments and populated scare zones are controlled.
In an uncertain age brought on by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unclear what changes need to be made to amusement parks and attractions to satisfy the needs of the public. We truly don’t know when or if social distancing will ever be over. The parks (and haunted attractions) that survive and thrive in the post-corona world will be the ones whose leaders are envisioning that future correctly right now. Regardless, these changes if implemented properly, could improve the guest experience, working experience, and improve the profit margins for parks.
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