Editorial: Prepare for no theme parks in 2020

Thirteen, Alton Towers

In mid-March, Merlin Entertainments had either already opened its UK theme parks, or was planning to in a matter of days.

The announcements that they would close or – as in the case of the UK’s largest theme park, Alton Towers – have their seasons suspended, seemed like a milestone moment in the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was only days later that it was announced that it would be illegal for venues such as theme parks to be open under new coronavirus legislation.

So the preceding period was a sort of delusion where many businesses, and indeed much of the public, believed life could carry on almost as normal.

Then, as the COVID-19 crisis moved from one stage to the next, new delusions emerged.

Many believed that the lockdown restrictions would be revised downwards quickly, probably after the first three-week review promised by Boris Johnson.

Since then, the Prime Minister has himself been in intensive care with the disease, and is currently continuing his weeks-long recovery away from Downing Street.

Back of the queue

The magnitude of the coronavirus outbreak has now been clear for some time, and the death figures serve as a stark reminder every day.

But at the time when the lockdown restrictions are slowly reversed, we should realistically expect theme parks to be towards the back of the queue.

Large owning companies like Merlin will be under pressure from their shareholders, but will certainly survive this period.

The future of some of the UK’s smaller independent theme parks appears slightly more precarious, with M&D’s already in administration.

Over two thirds of the respondents in our Twitter poll have said that they either don’t expect theme parks to re-open this year, or aren’t sure if they will or not.

It seems that even enthusiasts are largely resigned to this season being a write-off.

If that’s the mood amongst the hardcore fans, then one can only assume what it will be like amongst the wider public.

And it’s that latter group that is of course the key revenue stream for the parks. It’s that group’s fears and desires relating to the lockdown, and its end, that are crucial.

Given the anxieties over both health and finances, how likely are the wider public to rush out to a theme park the moment they are allowed to re-open?

Park owners and enthusiasts alike would be wise to prepare for the 2020 season being a complete write-off.