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How the Pandemic is Affecting Showmen in Europe

Hoping for Christmas in Germany
German showmen like Gebruder Boos oHG, are hoping the Christmas Markets, where they traditionally set up attractions, will not be cancelled due to the pandemic in 2020.

Rides 4U - New & Used Rides
Like showmen in the United States, European showmen are still reeling from the financial hits dealt by the COVID-19 pandemic. Accounts from a European manufacturer and several European show owners have a common theme: little government help, tough regulations, and a bleak outlook for the rest of the season with cautious hope for a return to normal business in 2021. Peter Theunisz of KMG / Used Rides Europe, Hendrik Boos from Germany, Frank Vale, from the Netherlands, and Maurice Janvier from the Netherlands took the time to give valuable insight into the European amusement industry.


KMG delivered the "No Limit", a re-themed Freak Out to Pride of Texas Shows at the 2020 IISF Trade Show, just before the pandemic hit.

Peter Theunisz, sales agent for KMG and Used Rides Europe, reports on the COVID-19 pandemic's affect on his company and the European amusement industry in general. “Times are hard for the industry worldwide. Sales in Europe and the US are slow although showmen are still hopeful and interested in new rides, to fulfill their future plans,” says Theunisz. Currently, fairs in Holland, France, Belgium and Germany have started to reopen, providing much needed hope and trust that the amusement industry will recover from this crisis. According to Theunisz, the fairs which are open work under a strict protocol but nonetheless people do visit those fairs.“Luckily, visitors have no problems with, or objections against, the Covid-19 measures at the fairgrounds,” he says.

When it comes to the manufacturing business, Theunisz is encouraged to see showmen start to make a little money again so they gain some trust in the future of the business. However, regardless of how motivated showmen may be to purchase new equipment, the biggest hurdle at the moment are the banks, according to Theunisz. They are cautious and don't take any risks in providing loans and financing, he says.

“My business is challenging at the moment, and I'm trying to work and think in every which way I can to keep the wheels turning and the rides running,” says Theunisz.

To keep himself busy and the industry moving in the right direction, Theunisz has been working since April on a protocol to get fairs open in Holland again. “Some bigger fairs started to work with my protocol and they function as pilot fairs so other committees and fair boards can learn from those fairs and organizations,” he says. The protocol is based on a fairground surrounded by fences, central entrance and exit, counting visitors based on available square feet space, hand washing stations, masks and crowd control. Additionally, all rides have their own protocol (similar to what Frank Zaitshik of Wade Shows presented in the US), to keep riders and employees safe and healthy.

Gebrüder Boos oHG - Germany

Hendrik (left), Gunther, and Stefan Boos

Hendrik Boos, owner of Gebrüder Boos oHG (Boos Brothers oHG) in Germany, gave some insight into how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected his company. According to Boos, Germany was put on official lockdown in early March, meaning that all events were cancelled immediately. In the first steps of the lockdown, the government forbade all events for a few weeks. “In April, the government created rules for the pandemic including rules especially for social distancing. All big events were forbidden in Germany until May initially and then later until the end of October,” says Boos.

As a result of government-ordered cancellations, German showmen have lost their business foundation for the 2020 season. Boos and his colleagues are holding out hope that the German Christmas markets will not be cancelled completely, “these are the last hope for the showmen in Germany,” he says. Just like US showmen, show-owners in Germany showed resilience by renting single spaces in city centers, parks, and shopping centers to set up food stands. The German government approved fixed “leisure parks” to reopen starting in the middle of June. Independent showmen got together and attempted to create mobile “leisure parks” to operate throughout the Summer holidays. Sadly, this model did not work out well for most showmen, “In a few cities, these conceptions got permission to operate but have not been successful in most cases and most showmen actually lost money on these activities,” says Boos.

In order to survive, Boos and his family had to find a way to set up some of their equipment and make money, “We started thinking about possibilities and after a while we got the idea to bring our giant wheel to a special place as a standalone attraction. We rented a place in our hometown, Magdeburg and started to set up our wheel,” says Boos. Although the location is great and the wheel set up gave his company lots of media and local attention, Boos was still not certain he would be allowed to operate until the last minute. The wheel was set up at the end of April and Boos was given permission to open on May 9th from the mayor of the city.

In a normal season, Boos travels to different European counties with his rides and organizes fairs himself. Recently, he secured a long contract with the city of Stettin, Poland. “We got the opportunity in the middle of June to organize a fair on a 100,000 square meter property for 8 weeks during the Summer,” says Boos. He contacted other independent showmen from Germany and the Netherlands to play the spot. They've seen great success with this fair so they plan to extend the operation until September 13th. At the beginning of the pandemic, the German government offered between 9,000 and 25,000 euros to help businesses pay their employees during March, April, and May. After May, companies are able to get credits from the government with low interest to help businesses offset the reduction in sales. According to Boos, the German National Showmen's Association is currently working to get more financial help for showmen.

Frank Vale & Sons - Netherlands

Frank Vale, owner of Frank Vale & Sons amusement company, is hoping to salvage as much of the 2020 season as he can. Normally, he travels around Europe with his Deca Dance and Gamble Adventure attractions, typically playing 23 different fairs per year with one attraction. At this time, Vale has only 3 fairs left on his schedule and the rest have been cancelled. “For now, the only fairs allowed to operate are far away from the city center and are organized like an amusement park with a certain maximum of visitors allowed,” says Vale.

Typically, Vale and his sons start operations in April but this year, the first fair Vale still had on his schedule started in August. When asked about how the pandemic and subsequent closure has affected his business, Vale was sure to also touch on how the pandemic has affected his way of life in general; “it is not alone the money we lose but also our lives are completely disturbed. Because we are not traveling, we don't see a lot of our colleagues and friends,” he says. Similar to the German government, the Dutch government provided some financial assistance to showmen. “From the lost turnover April until September we get 17% of sales with a maximum of 50,000 Euros,” says Vale.

According to Vale, the few fairs that are actually open are primarily visited by young people aged 12-25. “It seems like they are bored during the pandemic and not afraid of anything. Many of them do not follow the rules to wash their hands or prevent group formation in the parks,” he says. While Vale and his sons continue to conduct any business they possibly can, they remain fearful that the 2021 season may be affected by COVID-19. “We are really afraid if there is no vaccination at the end of this year that there will still not be fairs allowed in a normal situation,” he says.

Rhoma Amusements - Netherlands

Maurice Janvier, owner of Rhoma Amusements, travels with three attractions around Europe. “ In Holland we are mostly independent showmen who travel with a few pieces and are relatively small shows,” says Janvier. Starting at the beginning of his typical season (end of March), the whole amusement industry was closed by the government. “The message from the government was that we would be closed until September 1st. Then, our Prime Minister announced that we were able to open from mid-July, but it was up to the leader of every single place to decide if he/she would allow operation,” says Janvier. As of now, there have been about 40 ‘openings' of large amusement events out of 1400 that typically go on. According to Janvier, a big region of Holland has been excluded from any festivities until November 1st.

While a few lucky showmen have been able to operate with some success, Janvier has only been able to open at 1 event for 8 days. “We, all showmen, are desperate. We, till now, have been mostly ignored by our government, and got only little financial support, which is hardly sufficient to survive this crisis. If nothing changes in financial support, many of us will not survive this crisis,” he says. At the moment, two amusement industry unions are having negotiations with the government for proper financial support. The government expects 35% of all the showmen to ‘fall over' financially. “Our prospects to open all shows are slim, even for 2021. The way we tried to adapt, is to organize big shows, out of town-centers, behind gates, with a strict protocol for the whole show, and attractions individually. It seems to be the only way possible to open at all,” says Janvier.

For now, Janvier's show is not open. He reports that the few shows that are open have to have a protocol for their attractions including disinfection gel everywhere, signs to keep a minimum distance between people of 1.5 meters and a maximum amount of visitors at one time. “At best, we can operate at about 50-60% of our capability and capacity making our 2020 season a total loss,” says Janvier. Like his colleague Frank Vale, Javier feels that prospects for 2021 are bleak. “We are hoping for a working vaccine, so we can open and do business as usual. But we all think that the world and society will never be the same,” he says.
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