Last March, when I was told to stay home and avoid people I thought to myself, “Are they serious? Those are my life’s goals.” But what initially sounded good to me wasn’t good for business. For the outdoor amusement industry, this season will likely set records for low annual attendance.
I understand. I’ve understood for years, ever since I started my first summer job before going off to college. My job was as a tour guide, driving eight-passenger limousines on three-hour tours of Niagara Falls. My days usually lasted 12 to 14 hours, and after about three weeks I asked my boss for a day off. He looked me in the eye and said, “Sure, you can have the whole winter off.” It was then I realized that the summer tourist business was a 100-day season, and I’ve never forgotten that lesson. The same thing is true for the outdoor amusement business; you have 100 days to make your year’s revenue. This COVID-19 riddled year has reduced your season by a third or more, and even then you must operate at reduced capacity. Rides must operate at reduced capacity, too. Not a recipe for success, so you must do your best to salvage what you can of this year. Will next year be better? We surely hope so.
The fallout from this reduced attendance has quickly become evident, even here at Park World. With less income for the parks there will be fewer new ride sales, less need to replace all kinds of supplies. And with fewer sales there will be less advertising; everything is connected. Your success affects our success.
In late June I visited some parks on the Jersey Shore. New Jersey is one of the states that has done a good job of controlling COVID-19. The shore parks had not yet opened and the arcades were closed, but it was comforting to at least walk among the silent rides, fully masked to remain safe as shown here (I’m on the right). My most recent park visits found nearly empty venues. It is unlikely this season will be profitable. So this year we must remain optimistic that next year will be better.
“The only positive thing about the pandemic is it gives us time to finish all our small projects,” Scott Simpson of Playland’s Castaway Cove in Ocean City confided. “But I’m concerned about the manufacturers. I can operate a year without a new ride, but they have to sell every year. We can’t afford to have them go out of business. We always need parts, need service.”
“First and foremost,” admitted Jack Morey of Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, “we and many others in our industry are simply trying to survive, and get to 2021. While it is the ‘unprotected’ gatherings that tend to spread the pandemic, it does not mean that people cannot gather. Wouldn’t a little more private/personal space be nice next time you visit a park?”
This season is best summarized by the succinct wisdom seen emblazoned on a T-shirt at the Jersey Shore. It read, “2020 Sucks.”