With theme parks set to rebound, travel advisors…

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Social media personalities Dixie D’Amelio and Noah Beck at Disney California Journey Park on the Disneyland Resort on Could 2, 2021 in Anaheim, California.

Handout | Getty Photos Leisure | Getty Photos

The Covid pandemic made the previous 14 months a literal curler coaster of a trip for each theme parks and their followers.

Parks shut down or did not open in any respect final spring, and though some did reopen by summer season, it was with strict capability limits and stringent well being and security measures that delay some clients and positively dented the enjoyable issue for others.

Here is a take a look at how issues are shaping up in 2021 for this a part of the travel and tourism sector, and the way potential guests can take advantage of out a theme park trip because the pandemic winds down.

Pre-pandemic, issues had been going properly for the sector. The highest 20 North American theme parks drew 159,108,000 guests in 2019, 1% greater than the yr earlier than, based on the 2019 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index.

To attract much more guests, park operators had been rolling income again into much-hyped, big-budget new sights just like the Jurassic World Velocicoaster at Common Orlando Resort’s Islands of Journey in Florida and the Marvel-themed Avengers Campus at Disney California Journey Park in Anaheim.

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Folks have not forgotten these debuts had been within the pipeline.

“A lot of families are opting into going to theme parks this year,” mentioned Trish Smith, a Kansas Metropolis, Missouri-based travel advisor affiliated with the InteleTravel community of home-based brokers. “I’ve actually had more bookings at this point this year than I did in 2019.

“There are such a lot of new sights coming that lots of people are like, ‘Yeah, I do not wish to miss out on that, and I wish to be the primary,'” she added.

Demand is especially pent-up in California, where parks didn’t reopen until this April.

In fact, Michael Erstad, senior analyst, consumer for research firm M Science, said theme parks could see a return to former attendance levels as soon as next year. “I actually assume it is a risk,” he said. “It is going to all rely how issues go together with the virus for the remainder of the yr.

“I wouldn’t count [a rebound] out.”

Client knowledge insights agency Cardify has discovered, unsurprisingly, that theme parks noticed a giant drop in shopper spending final yr however “were able to recover a bit” by final summer season by reopening with capability restrictions. Now that cities and states are stress-free pandemic restrictions, parks are seeing what Cardify phrases the “silver lining” for park operators — a brand new “sharp increase” in spending.

Cardify additionally present in a survey of 1,044 shoppers that 72% are excited to return to amusement parks after the pandemic, extra so than film theaters (68%) or bars and golf equipment (67%). Solely in-person concert events (79%) and sporting occasions (74%) are extra eagerly awaited.

Theme parks “are in a much better spot” relative to cinemas, cruises, air travel, motels and different leisure choices, mentioned Erstad at M Science.

As at ski resorts, at theme parks “a lot of the experience is outdoors,” he mentioned, and subsequently much less dangerous by way of publicity. “You do queue up for rides, but over the last year they’ve made enhancements to improve the purchasing decisions for food and beverage so you do a lot of things electronically.”

So, the place are thrill-seekers headed?

There are primarily two theme park markets within the U.S., though there may be some crossover between them. Massive vacation spot parks — reminiscent of Walt Disney World, Common Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando, clustered collectively in central Florida — draw each home and worldwide guests for longer holidays, whereas regional parks, typically smaller and fewer closely themed, entice extra of a drive-in, day tripper demographic from close by areas.

Examples of the latter kind of park would come with the 27 theme and water park properties operated in North America by Grand Prairie, Texas-based Six Flags Leisure Corp. Some smaller but extremely themed parks, reminiscent of Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, straddle the road between the 2 classes.

(Curiously, Disneyland boasts a world vacation spot park profile however successfully operates as a regional park, drawing most guests from its native southern California market. That mentioned, the park — at the moment restricted to Californians — reopens to all guests in full on June 15.)

Haven’t any plans set in concrete; you have to be a bit of versatile proper now.

Trish Smith

InteleTravel-affiliated travel advisor

Client spending at Orlando parks has been recovering from final yr’s crash for months, with out-of-state guests opening their wallets greater than Florida residents, Erstad defined.

“I think it is a healthy sign for Disney and the destination-focused operators, as well as overall consumer appeal for theme parks in general this summer, [and] indicative of consumers seeking out this type of [mostly outdoor] entertainment,” he mentioned.

Florida’s been among the many least restrictive states in terms of pandemic-related regulation, and Orlando space Disney, Common and SeaWorld parks have all been open since final July. Short-term interstate travel restrictions and quarantine necessities tamped down on long-distance demand for just a few months however had been ultimately eased by year-end.

Whereas curiosity in Disney’s Orlando parks is robust, “road trips close to home will be very popular this summer for regional theme parks like [Cedar Fair’s] Kings Dominion [and] Cedar Point, Six Flags, Sesame Place, Busch Gardens and Dollywood,” mentioned Carolyn Moody, an InteleTravel advisor in Durham, North Carolina.

The jury’s truly nonetheless out on how regional parks will fare, with a scarcity of actual knowledge for climate-related and company causes at some venues, Erstad mentioned.

Cedar Honest Leisure Co., for instance, took 4 of its 11 theme parks within the U.S. and Canada fully offline for many of 2020, even in jurisdictions that allowed restricted opening with restricted capability, and minimize the working season brief in the remaining. It had simply 487 complete working days in 2020, in comparison with 2,224 in 2019.

“Cedar Fair has taken more of a conservative approach to things; they were the first to announce they’d honor 2020 pass holders into 20201 and took a cognizant decision to take a more cautious approach,” Erstad mentioned. “It’s a little too early to look at some of your colder weather parks, although we’ve been seeing pretty healthy demand at the parks that are open.”

This yr, Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Honest plans on opening all its U.S. parks — reminiscent of Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Level, California, and Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina — by Memorial Day, though Canada’s Wonderland, exterior Toronto, Ontario, will stay closed. The corporate plans to debut sights initially deliberate for 2020 and to spend a further $100 million on new upgrades this yr, mentioned president and CEO Richard A. Zimmerman, in a Could 5 assertion, in anticipation of “strong pent-up consumer demand for closer-to-home, outdoor entertainment, particularly in the year’s second half.”

“We are pleased with the early leading indicators we have seen thus far, and our 2021 operating strategy is focused on maximizing performance during our seasonally weighted second half of the year,” he added. “With our park openings right around the corner, we are once again seeing a lift in season pass sales.”

Erstad, in the meantime, pointed to Six Flags Nice Journey & Safari in Jackson, New Jersey, as a regional park that opened early within the pandemic and did “extremely well last summer.”

“That was just attributable to the fact they have the safari attraction, where you can be in your car with your family and socially distant from others,” he famous.

The park, close to New York Metropolis and Philadelphia, reopened its safari final Could 30 to drivers with reservations, after which reopened its theme park portion at 25% capability on July 3. The nice response factors to a number of “pent-up demand,” Erstad mentioned.

Parks like these of Cedar Honest’s that weren’t open in any respect final yr might even see an preliminary spurt of visits however “I don’t know that they’re going to see a surge in demand the way Disney and some of the other larger parks have experienced,” mentioned Summer season Hull, director of travel content material at web site The Factors Man.

“But I think that for some of the people who typically enjoy going to those spots, this may be the summer they do get back to them,” she added.

Theme park ideas and pivots

So, if you happen to’ve determined to go to a theme park, what ideas do travel advisors have?

Moody, a Disney specialist, mentioned households contemplating theme parks this yr ought to seek the advice of a travel advisor, “who can update clients on the latest CDC regulations, answer any questions, find the best deals, book everything from start to finish. and be a single point of contact throughout your trip.”

She additionally recommends reserving travel as early as doable, visiting parks early or late within the day to keep away from crowds, shopping for tickets and remembering to make any required entry reservations, too.

Smith additionally careworn that final level. Whereas Common Orlando by no means required reservations and Six Flags scrapped them at its parks nationwide this month, guests to Walt Disney World parks nonetheless want them — as does anybody visiting any of the newly reopened theme parks in California.

“Even if you buy the ticket, you’re not guaranteed to get into the park that you want to go to, because that park may be booked up with reservations,” she mentioned.

As soon as within the park, comply with any guidelines on masking and social distancing nonetheless in place — the state of affairs is fluid and might change quickly — however don’t be concerned an excessive amount of. There haven’t been any studies of Orlando-area parks turning into Covid hotspots since reopening.

“The theme parks have done a great job of keeping people safe,” mentioned Smith. “Even with more people being vaccinated, they’re still taking safety into account …so I don’t think there’s going to be a big uptick in cases or anything.”

The Factors Man’s Hull has been to Walt Disney World thrice because it reopened and mentioned “it’s been a blast.”

“It’s largely outdoors and they’ve done a great job of making it feel fun and at the same time safe in your own little ‘Disney bubble,'” she mentioned.

Even be open to alter. “That’s the biggest thing,” Smith mentioned. “Don’t have any plans set in concrete; you’ve got to be a little flexible right now.”

Hull agreed and mentioned theme park friends who do their homework can have a good time this summer season. “But those who assume it’s just business as usual are going to have a few surprises awaiting them,” she mentioned, noting that many elements of bigger vacation spot parks — from motels to eating places to rides — are nonetheless not on-line or working at regular capacities.

“You’ve got to line some stuff up in a way you might not have before and still go in with tempered expectations for things around dining, housekeeping and other elements that are still sort of pandemic-era and haven’t gotten back to normal yet.”

 (Disclosure: CNBC and Common Parks & Resorts are each subsidiaries of NBCUniversal, owned by mum or dad Comcast.)

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