While the current coronavirus pandemic has not fully calmed down, theme parks in Florida are already in the process of reopening. On June 1 and June 5 respectively, Legoland Florida and Universal Studios reopened, both with increased safety measures in place. On July 11, following new safety protocols as well, the theme park powerhouse that is Disney World is slated to reopen.
Even though theme parks have lost a lot of revenue in these past few months and reopening will help stimulate the US economy, the safety risk is very high. Reducing the spread of the virus and maintaining public safety is critical right now, and if theme parks want to avoid becoming COVID-19 hotspots, they must be cautious and implement effective technological solutions.
Upon reopening, Universal Studios and Legoland enforced a strict set of safety precautions. They now require all visitors to have their temperature checked at entry and also encourage or require the use of masks and constant hand sanitation. Additionally, they have placed social distancing markers around the parks, increased the frequency of cleaning, closed certain attractions and decreased capacity. While there aren’t concrete details on Disney’s plan yet, the company’s tentative plans are following suit by decreasing capacity, requiring facial coverings, using temperature tests, and more
One unique measure that only Universal and Disney World are taking is the use of contactless technology. Through both locations’ apps, many of the parks’ restaurants are providing a mobile ordering and payment option. Universal also offers a line reservation option on their app and Disney World offers a hotel check-in option online. What is interesting about all three theme parks is that they encourage cashless payment, with Legoland completely converting to this method.
With all of these safety precautions in place, it may appear that complete reopening is feasible, and that the risk of the coronavirus spreading has been effectively mitigated. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. Even though customers come to the park at their own risk, which is outlined on each theme park’s website, COVID-19 has not disappeared, especially in Florida. According to The New York Times, new coronavirus cases confirmed per day in Florida are in the mid-to-high hundreds, even reaching over a thousand at the beginning of June.
There are specific risks directly related to park operations. For example, the theme parks’ hotels are reopening, which presents a problem if a room isn’t properly cleaned before the next guest arrives. Also, Disney World is not planning on requiring temperature checks at each section of the park, which is a major issue for a theme park of its size. Unfortunately, the only way to ensure that a customer doesn’t have coronavirus is through testing, which is not yet possible on a large scale.
The rush to reopen is understandable. While customers’ safety is of utmost importance, large theme parks bring in millions to billions of dollars each year, heavily stimulating the economy. These parks also employ many people, including about 77,000 at Disney World alone.
However, Universal Studios, Legoland, and Disney World must firmly uphold the safety standards they have set in place by monitoring the theme parks very carefully. Embracing tech like websites, apps, and cashless transactions is an important step in the right direction, minimizing unnecessary contact between people. While a phased reopening of theme parks is a risky move at this time, hopefully the measures these parks have taken will prevent the spread of the coronavirus.