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Theme Park Industry Challenges and Opportunities in 2021

The theme park industry experienced a challenging year during 2020. Will 2021 result in more favorable conditions? This important economic sector witnessed impressive growth before the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses operating amusement rides and theme parks will address several challenges in the near future. Just consider five of the most pressing issues:

Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Since theme parks and amusement parks cater to mass audiences, the coronavirus pandemic significantly impacted the daily operations of these businesses. Health authorities expressed concern that crowds might lead to “super spreader” events and allow the contagious virus to circulate widely. Extensive shutdowns resulted. Theme parks in some jurisdictions (including California) remain under tight public health restrictions.

Consequently, the pandemic impacted this business sector severely. Worldwide, theme parks reported a 2.7% decline in profitability between 2019 and 2020, with revenues falling from 73.5 billion to 71.6 billion. In the United States, five companies comprise the bulk of this industry:

  • The Walt Disney Company
  • Cedar Fair, LP
  • Six Flags Entertainment Corp.
  • Universal Parks & Resorts
  • SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.

Some industry lobbyists have sought to pressure lawmakers into reopening theme parks as soon as possible, e.g., by promoting state legislation removing large parks from the most restrictive re-opening tier. However, in other areas, an easing of emergency health restrictions has allowed some companies to schedule 2021 reopening dates. Some experts predict a full recovery from the economic impacts of the pandemic in this industry may require at least five years.

Addressing Labor Issues

Theme parks and amusement parks in the United States currently remain fairly labor-intensive. The 458 parks in the USA employed some 133,151 workers. In 2021, many of these companies pay unskilled workers at low rates.

One challenge facing many parks currently involves the need to compensate employees adequately while remaining profitable. This issue has generated considerable controversy in recent years. Florida recently passed a ballot initiative requiring a $15 minimum wage for amusement park labor forces. Parks will need to find ways to balance the need for unskilled labor with rising living costs in nearby neighborhoods.

Enhancing Food Selections

Improving the quality and availability of food selections interests many parks. Some firms have begun introducing healthy meal options for patrons. Increasingly, large parks offer food courts to boost menu variety.

The trend to enrich meal options points to efforts to customize visitor experiences at theme parks. It may also reflect a desire to cater to Millennial generation patrons. Currently, Millennials and Generation Z represent two growing demographic markets.

Innovations to Thrill Visitors

More parks have also begun introducing high-tech features to enliven rides and displays. Both augmented reality and virtual reality now increase the customized nature of some theme park exhibits, for example.

The use of high-tech digital technologies appeals to Millennial and Gen Z visitors widely. In the USA, parks frequently compete for the right to create entertainment based upon intellectual property used in popular films and television productions. Disneyland has frequently drawn upon animated characters created by Walt Disney, for example.

Augmenting Security Using the IoT

Another trend in theme park management concerns integrating the Internet of Things with real-time data feeds to boost security. Some parks have implemented the use of RFID-equipped wristbands allowing them to track visitor movements through their grounds. This technology permits the reallocation of personnel to accommodate long lines.

Digital technologies also enable parks to update visitors quickly. Management may advertise attractions and restaurants this way, too. The Internet currently assists crowd management.

Anticipating a High Tech Future

Many analysts expect the merger of technology with traditional theme park operations will ultimately boost this industry’s popularity. As a sector within the entertainment industry, businesses in this field require public support to thrive. The development of increasingly personalized, innovative visitor experiences may eventually assist theme parks in the United States and many other nations as they recover from the impact of the recent pandemic.