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Theme Parks are Opening Now Abroad: How U.S. Parks Can Follow Similar Models

Social Distancing at Disney's Shanghai Park
In Shanghai, guests must maintain three feet of distance while in lines. Photo by Hu Chengwei.

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Theme parks are opening in China, and their procedures and plans may very well indicate how parks in the U.S. will proceed to reopen. While some smaller, regional parks are already in the middle of reopening, and other limited attractions have launched, the largest theme parks here are in beginning phases of the reopening process.

China’s Guangzhou Chimelong Water Park is reopening for the summer season on May 29, with special admission pricing before June 15th and an upgrade: a new family play and climbing area called Rock Wheel. The park is limiting attendance to 30% capacity, and will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. It will follow sanitation measures regulated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the National Health Commission. The attraction will provide online booking, temperature checks and so-called “health registration.”

Masks must be worn by all guests, and social distancing observed within the attractions, with visitors required to observe guidelines while queuing and follow staff instructions. Whether masks are required in the water is unknown at this time.

Indoor attractions such at Zhuhai Chimelong Ocean Kingdom and Guangzhou Chimelong Wildlife World are reopening as of May 15th.

Disney Shanghai has also re-opened, the first of Disney’s 14 theme parks to do so. Limited by the Chinese government to a one-third capacity of 24,000 daily, Disney CEO Bob Chapek revealed that Disney is reducing ticket sales even further, below that limit to allow employees to enforce safety rules that include temperature checks for guests upon arrival, to 20% of daily capacity, or about 16,000 people. The first week has seen Shanghai Disneyland tickets sell out within hours.

To further be sure the park stays far below capacity, tickets will be good only on a single, specific day. Chapek says it is too early to tell if that same policy will be in place when domestic parks reopen. 

In the meantime, Dr. Pamela Hymel, Disney’s chief medical officer is working with the U.S. Travel Association on appropriate guidelines for this country.

In Shanghai, all guests and park employees must wear face masks, with one exception – positioned from a distance, costumed characters can pose for photographs, but there are definitely no hugs or close contact allowed. The park has also added waste receptacles solely for used face masks. Chapek has said the company is likely to use similar techniques for safety at other locations including the U.S.

Disneyland Shanghai has replaced parades and fireworks with an evening light projection show, and closed children’s interactive play spots. Indoor live theater is also off limits while social distancing is required.

However, most rides, restaurants, and outdoor shows will be open, according to the park’s senior operations vice president, Andrew Bolstein.

In both its U.S. locations, Orlando and Anaheim, Disney parks might face cultural difficulties with getting people to wear face masks, Chapek has said.  Disney World in Orlando is scheduled to reopen on July 11 and 15th.

Chapek states that “In Asia, as you know, it’s fairly commonplace, even before COVID, for folks to walk around in public with masks on. That is not the case in the U.S.” With wearing masks irregularly mandated throughout the country, mask wearing remains a political controversy. A recent study also found that men are less likely than women to wear masks and coverings, perceiving mask wearing as a weakness.

Universal is also looking into the safest ways to proceed with opening: according to Universal Parks and Resorts chief administrative officer John Sprouls, the same talking points are under discussion. Consideration of face masks and screening employee and guest temperatures, disinfecting rides during regular operating hours, and modifying queues to reduce crowding are all being discussed.

Elsewhere abroad, Europa-Park has a planned reopening scheduled for May 29th, and will offer limited guest access through online ticketing. Digital technologies will help the German park to monitor and control queue lines. The six themed resort hotels will also open. Their English language Twitter page shows rides being tested and the park ready to open.

Dutch Netherlands theme park Efteling is reopening gradually beginning May 20th; the park will also offer online ticketing only, as well as enhanced cleaning, and social distancing of “1.5 meters between households.” They will offer PPE to guests as necessary. The Rulantica waterpark will remain closed, however.

Also in the Netherlands, Toverland has reopened with enhanced informational services, social distancing protocols and added cleaning regimens. It too is offering tickets only online.

Online-only ticketing to regulate attendance is extremely likely throughout the industry in the U.S.

For example, Six Flags just previewed its new guest reservation systems designed to manage attendance. Guests with single-day tickets, group tickets, memberships or season passes are required to make a reservation for a specific date, and to watch a short video that explains new social distancing and sanitization protocols, as well as acknowledging the company’s health policy. Parking must also be pre-paid, and if reservations on a specific date are full, guests join a waitlist and will be contacted automatically with an opening. They will also be contacted on the day before their visit to confirm and remind them of Six Flags’ health policy. Cancelations without penalty can be made up to 8 a.m. on the date of their visit.

A season pass-holder perk: Diamond and Diamond Elite Members will automatically be added to the priority waitlist, and also receive priority in booking a visit over single-day guests.
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