Social media personalities Dixie D’Amelio and Noah Beck at Disney California Adventure Park at the Disneyland Resort on May 2, 2021 in Anaheim, California.
Handout | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
The Covid pandemic made the past 14 months a literal roller coaster of a ride for both theme parks and their fans.
Parks shut down or didn’t open at all last spring, and although some did reopen by summer, it was with strict capacity limits and stringent health and safety measures that put off some customers and definitely dented the fun factor for others.
Here’s a look at how things are shaping up in 2021 for this part of the travel and tourism sector, and how prospective visitors can make the most out a theme park vacation as the pandemic winds down.
Pre-pandemic, things had been going well for the sector. The top 20 North American theme parks drew 159,108,000 visitors in 2019, 1% more than the year before, according to the 2019 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index.
To draw even more visitors, park operators were rolling profits back into much-hyped, big-budget new attractions like the Jurassic World Velocicoaster at Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventure in Florida and the Marvel-themed Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim.
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People haven’t forgotten those debuts were in the pipeline.
“A lot of families are opting into going to theme parks this year,” said Trish Smith, a Kansas City, Missouri-based travel advisor affiliated with the InteleTravel network of home-based agents. “I’ve actually had more bookings at this point this year than I did in 2019.
“There are so many new attractions coming that a lot of people are like, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to miss out on that, and I want to be the first,'” 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 certainly think it’s a possibility,” he said. “It will all depend how things go with the virus for the rest of the year.
“I wouldn’t count [a rebound] out.”
Consumer data insights firm Cardify has found, unsurprisingly, that theme parks saw a big drop in consumer spending last year but “were able to recover a bit” by last summer by reopening with capacity restrictions. Now that cities and states are relaxing pandemic restrictions, parks are seeing what Cardify terms the “silver lining” for park operators — a new “sharp increase” in spending.
Cardify also found in a survey of 1,044 consumers that 72% are excited to return to amusement parks after the pandemic, more so than movie theaters (68%) or bars and clubs (67%). Only