by Joe Kleiman
2020 has been a year like no other in the recent history of the attractions industry. The global health crisis known as the COVID pandemic has created inconsistencies around the world. Parks could open in one country or even a state, province or municipality, while remaining closed in the next. Meanwhile, some governments have enacted orders much stricter than others, including caps on attendance or maximum daily ridership.
These inconsistencies appear within the 2020 TEA / AECOM theme index, the annual measurement bar for global theme park attendance. The authors decided this year not to rank parks based on varied attendance in 2020, choosing instead to maintain the 2019 ranking. After all, a California park that was only open for three months at the start of the year cannot not be placed at the same level as a park in Florida that was only closed for four months and open during the pivotal summer season.
California restrictions create changes in tourism patterns
In the Americas, there were a few anomalies on the loss of attendance, such as the Beto Carrero World in Brazil, which reported a drop of 44.1%. Most parks, however, experienced much greater losses, in the order of 60 to 80%. Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park saw a drop of 66.9%, while Disneyland in California, which closed on March 14, 2020 and has not been cleared by the state to reopen for more than a year. , recorded a loss of 80.3%
As InPark reported in January 2021, in 2020, the state of California instituted some of the strictest regulations in North America for theme park and amusement park openings and operations. This has resulted in a significant shift in travel trends. During Outlook Forum, an annual event organized in March 2021 by Visit California, the public-private partnership responsible for the state’s tourism marketing, Janet Lamkin (Senior Vice President Market & Community Innovation for United Airlines) and Shane Hodges (Vice President Western Division and International Sales of American Airlines) noted that in 2020, two of the country’s busiest airports – Los Angeles and San Francisco International – saw only a fraction of their footfall, mainly due to travel restrictions and large cancellations of flights to and from the Asia-Pacific market. One market in California, surprisingly, has seen a huge increase in airfare bookings – Fresno, which serves as a gateway to Yosemite, King’s Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. As Californians sought a return to nature, Visit California focused on national and international campaigns to focus on residents of the state. The direct marketing organization implemented a âCalifornia Roadtripâ campaign, encouraging residents to explore the state’s natural beauty and small communities.
In June 2021, Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of Visit California told InPark, âVisit California’s marketing shifted towards more scenic images and responsible travel messages as Californians explored more. close to home during the pandemic – but the Disney experience is incredibly iconic and fundamental to the overall California brand. And of course, consumers were excited to see images and news from our state’s theme parks when we could share details on how and when they reopened.
âFor our ‘Dreaming On in California’ campaign to celebrate the reopening of the state, we asked consumers to share the moments and milestones they missed most in 2020, and we heard thousands of stories heartbreaking of canceled plans, abandoned events and lost loved ones. But for so many travelers, Disney was the experience they missed the most in 2020. â
On April 1, 2021, the state authorized the reopening of theme parks, with COVID restrictions and attendance caps in place. With one minor exception later announced by the California Department of Public Health, participation was limited to California residents. Guidelines for opening the water parks, which had remained closed in 2020, were announced days later.
On June 15, 2021, the state announced the end of COVID restrictions, with the removal of theme park restrictions. After an increase in cases in late summer and early fall, several counties instituted new theme park warrants, including proof of vaccination, which would be implemented once attendance would exceed 10,000.
China sees minimal loss of attendance and significant growth in new parks; Europe is banking on the regional
According to the 2020 Thematic Index, parks in China tend to do the best, with the smallest drop in attendance compared to 2019, typically around 50%. Two chains reported significantly less drop in footfall – OCT Group at an average per park of 14% and Fantawild at an average of 20%. As previously reported by InPark, these low national percentages were largely due to the government structure in China which allowed greater control over citizen activities and attraction activities. China was one of the first countries to implement a COVID-related digital health passport required to attend theme parks. The parks in the Hong Kong-Macao-Zhuhai Free Trade Zone (Ocean Park, Hong Kong Disneyland, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom) recorded a much higher percentage loss of attendance, between 60% and 70%. As we reported in January 2020, these parks were severely affected by the closures during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), one of the busiest weeks for national and international tourism in the region.
Government oversight has led not only to the continued operations of the park, but also to its growth. AECOM specialists Beth Chang (Executive Director – Economy, Asia-Pacific) and Chris Yoshii (Vice-President – Economy, Asia-Pacific) wrote in the 2020 Theme Index: âBeing affected very early in the pandemic, China was the first to implement restrictions and closures. Nonetheless, new parks and attractions continued to open even during the pandemic, albeit with some delays. China has added nearly 20 parks. The most prestigious of these is Universal Beijing, with its official opening in September 2021. OCT and Fantawild have both opened new parks, while Chimelong Paradise is expanding. Ocean Park Hong Kong has opened its new year-round water park, Water World.
Many territories in Europe and Asia have experienced multiple closures, openings and re-closures as COVID cases and hospitalizations fluctuated. The Efteling park in the Netherlands saw a drop in attendance of only 44.9% compared to 2019. InPark reported on the steady year-over-year growth in the number of international visitors to Efteling, mainly from the UK. According to the 2020 Theme Index, the theme park complex has responded to the pandemic by emphasizing its regional audience in marketing efforts.
Museums among the most affected
Among the places most affected in 2020 (due to the pandemic) were museums. Due to their predominantly indoor nature, only four of the 60 busiest sites in the world listed in the 2020 TEA / AECOM Museum Index experienced a drop in attendance of less than 70%. As with theme parks, it becomes difficult to discern the differences in attendance losses, as each site was subject to unique restrictions, different from those in other countries or municipalities. Three of the Museum Index’s top 20 museums in the world are located in California. The state-owned California Science Center in Los Angeles fell 87.7%, while the Getty Center, also in Los Angeles, fell 81.4% and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco by 81.8%. Each location was subject to COVID mandates focused on museums not only in the state but also in their respective counties.
Visit California’s Beteta told InPark, âCalifornia’s abundance of cultural experiences keeps visitors coming back to the state and exploring the cities where so many of these attractions are located. As we emerge from the pandemic, Visit California is committed to supporting all of our communities and we intend to focus on the vibrant urban core of our state, home to so many spectacular museums, galleries and theaters. These gateways will continue to experience a slower recovery until business and international travel fully resumes. In the meantime, we’ll continue to encourage Californians and other visitors to visit our ever-changing cities and experience all they have to offer.