The coronavirus is threatening the only most essential occasion for theme parks—Halloween

With caps on attendance and new coronavirus security tips, together with necessary masks sporting and social distancing, theme parks have needed to reimagine their Halloween festivities this yr.

The fall vacation has morphed into the only most essential occasion for theme parks, Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Parks Services, mentioned. 

“A down Halloween or a flat Halloween could make or break a park’s season,” Speigel mentioned. “This season we’re so damaged, it is simply going to take our income and attendance ranges to the bottom degree we have ever seen.”

Halloween occasions, which vary from haunted homes and scare zones to kid-friendly parades and trick-or-treating cubicles, have grow to be extremely in style with visitors within the U.S. and overseas. These occasions often pad the bottom line for theme park operators like UniversalDisney and Six Flags. 

At first, Halloween occasions had been a technique to prolong operations at regional parks nicely into the autumn months. Roller coasters are much less interesting throughout colder climate and, with college again in session, households aren’t capable of go to parks throughout the weekdays within the fall. 

Over time, it developed into profitable months-long festivals. Theme parks throughout the U.S. carry within the hay bales, big jack-o’-lanterns and cobwebs as early as August to kick-off the spooky season. Typically,  Halloween occasions happen after conventional park hours and require a separate ticket buy. So the parks are earning profits from each the visitors that go to throughout the day and people who arrive when the solar goes down.

These occasions, significantly ones with a number of haunted homes, draw visitors for a number of nights. Six Flags famous throughout an earnings name final yr that guests usually come to the park three to 4 occasions to expertise the occasion.

A scary good time

For some parks, like Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and SeaWorld-owned Busch Gardens, Halloween is all about gore, scares and screams. These parks design elaborate mazes crammed with creepy creatures and loads of leap scares. 

Knott’s Berry Farm, which launched its Knott’s Scary Farm occasion in 1973, was the primary park to dream up a Halloween-themed occasion. Unfortunately, for the park, which is owned by Cedar Fair, California has not lifted restrictions on theme parks reopening within the state, so it has been unable to host its annual Halloween occasion.

“Being the unique creators of the very first Halloween theme-park expertise, our visitors have come to anticipate so much from our annual Knott’s Scary Farm occasion,” Knott’s Berry Farm mentioned in an announcement to CNBC.

“When evaluating what to do that Halloween season, our largest problem was making an attempt to determine learn how to create and ship an expertise that our visitors will get pleasure from whereas guaranteeing they’re staying 6 ft aside, sporting a masks always, repeatedly sanitizing all highly-touched surfaces, including sanitizing stations, touchless transactions, and limiting contact whereas on the park,” it mentioned.

This yr, the park is providing Knott’s Taste of Fall-O-Ween, an outside eating and retail expertise. Currently, Knott’s Berry Farm is capping attendance between 10% and 15% of what it usually can be and has bought out its tickets on a regular basis it has been open.

“We had been prepared to soundly open our park when given clearance, and it was disappointing to not be given steering to entertain extra of our visitors who sit up for Halloween at Knott’s yearly,” a consultant for the park mentioned.

And it isn’t the one one. Last yr, SeaWorld noticed attendance within the fourth quarter leap 2.2% regardless of unfavorable climate. The firm mentioned that its Halloween occasion was one purpose for the uptick. 

SeaWorld owns Busch Gardens, which has parks in Virginia and Florida. It’s Florida park, Busch Garden’s Tampa Bay, started planning its annual Howl-O-Scream occasion again in February.

“Over the previous 20 years, Howl-O-Scream has grow to be a haunted staple amongst Halloween followers, drawing thrill seekers from around the globe to the Tampa Bay space,” Busch Gardens Tampa Bay mentioned in an announcement. “The occasion is highly-anticipated annually, with many followers eagerly reaching out and planning within the spring to attend within the fall.”

A spooky wolf-like creature from Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s new out of doors scare zone Lycan Landing.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

The crew needed to rapidly adapt to new security protocols and create an expertise that was extra socially distant. All scare actors put on protecting face coverings and stay additional away from visitors than they often would. 

Instead of conventional indoor haunted homes, the park has 10 open-air scare zones that visitors can enterprise by way of.

Universal Studios, too, sees a giant spike in foot visitors and income throughout the fall months. The Comcast-owned firm hosts an annual occasion referred to as Halloween Horror Nights, which helped enhance income at its theme parks 3.2% to $1.6 billion throughout the fourth quarter final yr.

“Over 900,000 individuals went to Universal only for Halloween,” Speigel mentioned of final yr’s festivities.

However, resulting from diminished capability and the continued closure of its California-based park, Universal canceled its Halloween Horror Nights event in July. This yr would have been its 30th anniversary.

Universal Studios didn’t instantly reply to CNBC’s request for remark.

Last yr, the park had 10 haunted homes, together with ones that includes characters from “Us,” “Stranger Things,” and “Ghostbusters.” This yr, there are solely two haunted homes and they’re accessible to tour throughout the daytime as a substitute of after hours.

Spooky alternate options

Without its marquee Halloween occasion, Universal has developed different, socially distant, methods for visitors to benefit from the vacation. The park added a scavenger hunt referred to as Scarecrow Stalk, 13 scarecrows and skeletons that may be discovered all through the park, and the Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store, which has 4 themed rooms with spooky merchandise and specialty meals.

“We are seeing theme parks adapt as finest they’ll with a purpose to keep engaged with their park visitors,” Eric Wold, analyst at B. Riley FBR, mentioned. “While the expertise might be seen as not as thrilling to some visitors, we might anticipate parks to benefit from it and nonetheless drive an fulfilling expertise for attendees.”

While different parks delve deep into the scares, Disney leans into “Hocus Pocus,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and dozens of iconic villains for a “not-so-scary” expertise for households.

In 2019, the parks, experiences and merchandise section for Disney noticed income for the quarter rise 8% to $7.four billion from the prior yr. That unit consists of all of Disney’s home and worldwide theme parks, its cruise traces, resorts and excursions, in addition to its merchandise.

In the previous, Disney has supplied a lot of parades, fireworks exhibits and in-park leisure. This yr, with attendance caps and gathering restrictions, the corporate has additionally needed to get inventive with its celebrations.

Disney has small processions of iconic Disney characters that make appearances all through the day and the Dapper Dans from Magic Kingdom have been reworked into The Cadaver Dans to carry out undead a cappella for visitors.

Additionally, Disney has made plenty of Halloween-themed merchandise accessible on-line for these visitors that are not capable of enterprise to the parks this yr. 

Halloween merchandise accessible at Disney Parks and on-line at storeDisney.


“We know the way a lot our visitors get pleasure from experiencing these particular moments with their households and that is why we’re giving them extra methods than ever to have fun the seasons with Disney magic,” Jill Estorino, president and managing director for Disney Parks International, mentioned.

Disney’s potential to shift to providing extra shopper merchandise and retail experiences isn’t one thing that each one theme parks are capable of do to. Especially, for parks that are not open year-round.

And the troubles that theme park operators are seeing this yr aren’t prone to disappear rapidly. 

A weekly report revealed by Morning Consult signifies, as of Oct. 5, solely round 21% of shoppers really feel comfy returning to amusement parks.

“This is not going away,” Speigel mentioned. “We are going to be experiencing this in 2021. People simply aren’t prepared, there may be nonetheless this concern.”

Disclosure: Comcast is the dad or mum firm of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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