5 Theme Park COVID-19 Changes I Hope Stick Around

In yet another attempt at some positivity, I've been thinking lately about how much the theme park industry has changed over the past year to cope with the impact of COVID-19 and how, whilst some of the changes are disruptive, actually a lot of the changes are things that are beneficial to the parks. COVID-19 forced the hand of many attractions to make changes and develop technologies that they never would have given a second thought to in pre-virus times, or maybe would've gotten around to eventually but at a much slower pace. With that in mind, I wanted to talk through a few of the changes brought on by the impact COVID-19 safety and why I'd quite like some of them to stick around after the virus has buggered off.

OK let's start with the obvious, the extra cleaning. Yes, it has an impact on staffing budgets. Yes things take just a little longer. Yes it's a little bit frustrating. But y'know what, it's made me realise how gross sitting in a seat that hundreds have sat and screamed and coughed and sneezed all over all day before my turn. In actual fact, when thinking about it...did ANY parks clean their coaster trains outside of seasonal maintenance? I've never worked in ops so I'm genuinely not sure but it's certainly something I've never seen in practice, at least not quite as often as I'd like. The idea of pulling a restraint down over my face that's likely crawling with germs now makes me squirm so I take a lot of peace of mind with the idea that the extra cleaning is here to stay. 

Also the handy hand sanitiser stations everywhere. Pre-COVID I only ever really used my own on the London Underground but now I couldn't see myself ever going to a park not loaded up with my own batch of the good stuff. There's just so many people TOUCHING everything that I simply cannot, but I'd like it if the parks kept their own stations too just in case I run out. 

Sadly not everybody's behaviour has improved during this pandemic but I do think that largely there's a much calmer, more patient air about theme park goers. Everybody understands that these are unprecedented times, the parks are doing their best to deliver fun days out and yes there will be hiccups, but everybody is pretty chill about it. The atmospheres at parks I've visited during this period have been some of the most welcoming and pleasant I've ever experienced - both from a staff perspective and guest. Staff of course have all been absolute stars, determined to create a fun atmosphere for people to take their mind off things for a little while and just have some fun but also working tirelessly to keep everything safe and clean. 

Guests too just seem, on the whole, more understanding and thankful towards what the staff and parks are doing to keep things running as smoothly as possible. I've rarely seen an angry, entitled face of somebody convinced they're not getting their money's worth or that the park is somehow out to personally ruin their day. Everybody just seems a lot more mellow in the joint understanding that hey, things aren't exactly normal right now but we all just have to ride the wave and make the most of things. I'd be very keen to see this attitude carried over into post-COVID times, because lord knows it just makes for a better atmosphere all round for everyone!

The rate tech has been developed and implemented during the pandemic has been like nothing I've ever experienced before and all of it just goes towards ensuring an easier, more enjoyable experience for all park goers. I'm talking mobile ordering in restaurants so you don't have to queue, digital queueline systems so you're not stuck crammed in a queue with hundreds of others, digital annual passes and tickets so you don't have to wait in line as soon as you visit the park to collect your paper ticket. The list goes on and on and on. It's actually incredible how much change we've seen technology-wise in just a few short months, and all on things that ultimately serve to do one thing: maximise the amount of time we can actually spend on the rides when we're out at the parks!

I understand these things happened so quickly out of necessity - without a lot of this tech many places wouldn't have been deemed COVID-safe and would therefore not have been able to operate, something that was simply not an option for most businesses. I really hope that now it's been shown that these things can be done if the correct time and focus is given to them that the momentum doesn't slow down. I believe it's one of the biggest changes to happen to theme parks off of the back of the pandemic and it would be such a shame to lose that drive once things get back to normal. 

As many 'New for 2020' attractions were not able to press ahead because of the impact of the virus, many parks chose instead to focus on an event strategy to keep us visiting again and again while we still could when the parks were open. Because of having to adhere to COVID-safe regulations, we saw not only the introduction of brand new events like Oktoberfest but also tweaks to existing events to ensure they could go ahead in adherence with government guidelines. I'm talking things like introducing scare zones during Halloween events in place of scare mazes, operating pop-up seasonal drive-in cinemas and drive thru scare and Christmas attractions. Everything just came out into the open a little more and the result was an overwhelming improvement to general park atmosphere - it really felt like these events had come to life and I really hope we see this continue into 2021 and beyond because the difference was staggering. 

I guess this one extends outside of just the themed attractions industry but my god, the flexibility these companies have shown during this time has been absolutely fantastic. Instantly revalidating tickets, extending seasonal opening hours where possible, extending Annual Passes, issuing vouchers for hotel books. The parks have gone above and beyond to ensure nobody loses out due to the virus and everybody has been so much happier for it! It put me so much at ease with going ahead and just booking things because there was no overhanging 'what if', everything became simplified. It reminded me a lot of the 'book now, pay later option' that Booking.com offer - it makes me much more likely to go ahead and book something because I know there's not going to be hassle to cancel or move my booking if something happens and I'd love to see this generosity and flexibility continue in the future. I'm not talking in exactly the same way but even just a little bit would go such a long way. 


So there we have it, a silver lining to this ever-lingering cloud of shit. In all seriousness, I'm in absolute awe at the way the industry has moved and grown with each ever-changing stage of the pandemic and I'm so grateful that they've not only been able to make it through but come out shining in some areas, taking learnings into the future to continue developing excellent experiences for every new guest that visits. 

What are some changes you hope stay post-COVID? Are there any changes you can't wait to see the back of? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to have a chat!

Talk later xoxo,