As 2020 continues to bring new challenges for the theme park and attractions industry, it’s time to focus on a realistic view of the industry and what lies ahead.
The ripple effects of COVID-19 are still being felt, and many of our attractions have reopened as many other leisure and entertainment activities remain closed to customers. Let’s be clear: the pandemic has hit our industry hard. Traditional park openings were postponed no less than three months, and consumer confidence remains at an all-time low.
Some visitors fear the virus and choose to stay home, and others are choosing to venture out, sometimes bypassing the rules and regulations set in place by governments and parks, themselves. With a second wave of COVID-19 cases now approaching new peaks, 2020 will be in no way a traditional theme park season.
But, as there is in any situation, there is an opportunity to leverage the insights we’ve gained and innovation we’ve seen to get our industry back on track.
Let’s shine a light on the top lessons that were (re-)confirmed during this pandemic with an optimistic eye on the future of our industry.
Key Takeaways from the COVID-19 Era for Theme Parks and Themed Entertainment
- Your local audience matters: It’s critical for theme parks to never lose sight of their own backyard – their local region. Your local audience needs to embrace you since the first day of operation, and they can play a key role as neighbors, potential brand ambassadors or even employees. This crisis has shown that a pandemic reduces the area from which a theme park attracts visitors due to both a decline in overall travel and out-of-state restrictions, and a large majority of current visitors live within a driving distance of your facility. Take care of them however you can.
- Diversify your business: Theme parks that attract diverse groups of audiences will come out of this unprecedented era stronger. This refers not only to diversity in terms of demographic, but also in terms of audience type, from international tourists, local residents, students and young professionals to business audiences and government bodies. Make sure you attract to all these groups in a way that feels inclusive and immersive.
- Innovate: It’s time to adapt your business model to today’s expectations. Not only do you need to digitize your theme park business model – you’ll also need to make sure your experience offers the right amount of innovation to feel fresh and impressive, yet also deliver key peace of mind. Solutions like extended reality, or XR, dark rides, and more can help.
- Vision: Make sure your leisure development has a higher aim to serve as a guideline in challenging times like these. A higher reason of existence will tell you who is going where and how they’ll get there.
- Go premium: While it might sound contradictory, this pandemic is an opportunity to make your attraction more premium. With visitor totals limited and an increase in the expected level of guest service, a new, premium audience might feel attracted to spending money at local destinations. Embrace this audience and offer them exclusive experiences, like Ferrari World Abu Dhabi’s experiments with hypercars, that show that you are ready to exceed those expectations.
How Developments in the Travel Industry Will Impact Theme Park Destinations
Many questions arise when we think about the future of leisure, tourism and travelling, including:
- Will traveling ever be the same again?
- When will we return to pre-pandemic levels in demand? Once that happens, how do we manage demand?
- Will there be a shift in leisure versus business demand?
- How will the tourism experience evolve?
The final impact of the crisis is still to be determined, but new patterns have started to make themselves apparent that could provide the answers to these key questions.
Once the threat recedes, travel and overall demand should return. Here are some things you, as a leisure operator, can take into account to ensure you take advantage:
- The comeback of the tour operator and travel agent: Consumers will look for safe formulas and packages that feel more within their control and are likely to produce a safe and fun overall experience. Partnering with key tour operators will be key to regaining consumer confidence.
- A continued process of consolidation: Not every airline, cruise line, hotel or attraction will survive the crisis, and the struggling ones might merge into larger entities, such as investing companies or consolidated park chains.
- Healthy travel will be a key topic: Expect health checks to take place multiple times during future overseas trips, with the discovery of symptoms and signs of infection paramount in both travel and entry to attractions.
- Technology integration becomes key: More than ever, we will rely on technology to make our lives more efficient and practical, and this expectation won’t disappear when we go on vacation or decide to visit a theme park. The expectation moving forward will be the provision of the ability to use fully functioning digital tools to improve our experience.
While some players in the travel ecosystem will be able to adapt to the new circumstances and recover rather fast, others face slow reopenings and depressed rates after the boom that preceded the pandemic.
Looking Ahead at the Future of Theme Parks and Themed Entertainment
Much has been said about the future of the theme park and themed entertainment industry after the COVID-19 pandemic, with thought leaders across the industry weighing in on informal forums like the Season Pass Podcast. There are many ways to keep you and your colleagues inspired.
Overall, one forecast seems clear – if parks that have already seen significant data after reopening and leading market research are any indication, the theme park and themed entertainment industry will recover from this global disruption.
Now, it’s up to decision-makers like you to empower your park for full-speed-ahead recovery.
Have you identified any further potential changes to the ways we will travel and consume leisure in both the immediate and long-term future? What other lessons or knowledge have you either learned or seen reconfirmed during this time?
Share your insights with us – we would love to hear from you work together to address your unique challenges and goals for the post-COVID era of theme parks and themed entertainment.