On Monday, the California Attractions and Parks Association (CAPA), the trade organization that represents 8 of the largest theme parks in California, including Disneyland and Universal Studios, asked Governor Gavin Newsom to allow them to re-open citing financial and employee distress.
Theme parks in California have been closed for six months and counting
Theme parks in California have largely been closed since mid-March. While many have since partially reopened or only allowed a limited amount of guests in for special events, none have fully reopened. Those that have partially reopened have only allowed certain parts to operate such as aquariums or outdoor shopping centers. Rides and shows remain shuttered at parks due to the state COVID-19 reopening rules.
CAPA, which represents California’s Great America, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Legoland California, SeaWorld San Diego, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and Universal Studios, said on Monday that the theme parks need to have state approval to reopen soon as the companies are losing a lot of money due to the closures. The closures also mean that thousands of Californians who worked at the parks remain out of a job.
“California’s amusement parks urge the governor to issue amusement park guidelines expeditiously so these vital community attractions can reopen their doors in a responsible manner and get residents back to work,” said CAPA executive director Erin Guerrero in a statement. “As evidenced by the many open amusement parks in the United States and around the world, visiting an attraction will not look the same as before COVID, but California’s amusement parks are ready to responsibly re-open.”
Employees fear permanent loss of a dream job, financial woes
Many employees are also feeling the burden.
“It’s been six months, and I’ve been stuck at home awaiting to go back to a dream job while my finances go into the ride and unemployment keeps getting pared down,” Maria, a Universal Studios employee who didn’t want her last name used, explained in an interview with the Globe. “A lot of theme park workers, especially at Universal and Disney, have jobs they just can’t let go. These are people who want to work there because it’s the only place you get to pilot the Jungle Cruise or be a Wizard or be a part of Star Wars as a decently paying job.”
“We all know we have to do what we need to do to survive, but this is getting rid of our dream too. We know the parks are losing money through this, but you need to remember there are thousands of enthusiastic employees who put their lives on hold for this. There are engineers who rejected cushy government engineering jobs to become imagineers and janitors who took a job at a theme so they could impress their kids. Every level has this kind of devotion to the park. And by keeping us all out of work, not only are you losing money, you are losing out on employees willing to bend over backwards for the parks success.”
“Every week that goes by means that many more employees you need to find with that same level of enthusiasm. It’s not as easy at it sounds, even with so many people wanting jobs with these parks. They’re called cast members for a reason, and not ‘staff’ or ’employees.'”
Many of the theme parks have noted that, since partial re-openings have come back up in the past several months, no outbreaks have been recorded.
“We have taken every precaution with our proposed health and safety plan to meet and exceed guidelines given to other businesses and industries,” said Legoland officials. “We are now calling on the State of California to recognize the level of detailed planning undertaken so we can work towards reopening with guidance from both the state and county.”
CAPA also noted plans for re-openings.
“Over those six months, parks crafted detailed plans to reopen — they include capacity reductions, face covering requirements, robust health and safety protocols for both guests and employees, and significant modifications to support physical distancing,” added Guerrero. “These practices will promote health and safety in ways that many activities Californians are currently engaging in won’t. However, in order to reopen, parks require guidance from the state and that guidance has not been forthcoming.”
‘We need this. Badly.’
Governor Newsom appeared cautious yet optimistic in theme park reopening plans in July, but announced a second COVID-19 spike in the early summer and pulled back re-opening plans.
While he did not respond to CAPA on Monday, Newsom made several statements last week hinting at a reopening soon.
“Conversations are ongoing, just as a reminder, for theme parks, amusement parks and the like,” Newsom said last week. “There are still many areas where we are open-ended in terms of our negotiations. Making progress and advancing in the same space. Getting closer to concluding when and how to safely reopen those sectors. The epi data shows us the way and provides us the capacity to make determinations. We will make those determinations in real time.”
With Disney standing to lose billions, and smaller theme park operators like Cedar Fair and Six Flags looking at losing tens of millions this year alone, theme parks want to salvage what they can this year for a final few months leading up to the lucrative Halloween dates in late October.
“We always do mad business around Halloween,” a Six Flags employee explained to the Globe. “In the North and Northeast, it’s the last time they’re open for the season. In California and Florida it’s the last hurrah before more timid winter months.”
“We need this. Badly. It may not seem like it, but an entire huge industry is at stake here.”