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IAAPA reveals recommendations for closing and reopening theme parks impacted by COVID-19

IAAPA reveals recommendations for closing and reopening theme parks impacted by COVID-19
March 28, 2020

With many attractions and theme parks having closed globally to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) has shared Vietnam’s SunWorld Holding Director of Operations and Set Up, Daan Duijm’s recommendations on best practices for operational procedures on closing and reopening theme parks impacted by COVID-19.

Closing a Park
Consider the following steps when preparing to close your park temporarily due to the impact of COVID-19.

Communicating the Closure

  • Regular meetings are required to discuss the development of the virus and company procedures, Emergency Action implementations, and other topics including the HR impact closure would have on staff. Discuss whether staff would be working from home, given paid leave or unpaid leave, or will be terminated and able to potentially benefit from government assistance. Consider staff in key positions and the availability of staff when reopening.
  • When considering whether closing is required, rely on information from the government’s health and safety department. Consider the financial impact on the business and staff while keeping the health and safety of staff and guest as the key priority. Multiple theme parks across the globe have closed in advance of government requirements out of an abundance of caution and safety.
  • Communicate clearly about any (foreseeable) closure, the impact it would have on the staff, and what the company is doing to ensure reopening.
  • Ensure information about the closure of the park, the duration, the impact on guests with pending bookings, and cancellation or extension policy is available on site and online, and also e-mailed out and posted on social media.
  • After closing, put tools in place to ensure communication between key members of leadership. Also, make sure staff has the ability to communicate with their leadership.
  • Review ticketing and refund policy and consider a high amount of refund requests from guests. Ensure guests are able to stay in touch via phone or e-mail in regard to potential bookings, cancellations, and concerns.

Preparing the Park
Most parks who close for the winter or have an offseason are well prepared for this, however for parks open 365 days a year, this might be the first time the entire park  will be closed for an extended duration. If you have experience with extended closures, much of this might be familiar. This is a simplified list of elements to think about in regard to closing for an unknown duration.

  • Move any loose equipment into dry and covered storage. This may include: signage, sun loungers, benches, electronic equipment like POS systems, TVs, etc. Ensure damage from weather will not effect your equipment. (Pro-tip: Make a list/map of the locations of all the equipment for easy returning later).
  • Rigorously clean before closure to ensure materials and offices are left in good condition. Consider cleaning offices, meeting rooms, storage rooms, turnstiles, rides, and attractions.
  • After cleaning, cover elements that need to be protected from the weather with opaque plastic (like touchscreens for ride control panels, the control panel itself, permanent cabinets, etc.).
  • Review which systems need to stay operational like firefighting, fire-detection systems, CCTV, servers, etc.
  • Check on product expiry for retail and food and beverage inventory, and review if unused goods can be returned for credit, or sold to employees and other operators. Cover and store items appropriately and ensure an inventory.
  • Close and lock areas where possible. Think about offices, meeting rooms, storage, etc. Limit entries into the park for efficient control and ensure centrally controlled keys. Turn off lights and power sources where possible. Review shutting off and access to electrical equipment and consider the need for constant air-conditioning of maintenance equipment rooms in a warm climate.
  • A skeleton crew might be required to keep the park safe (security) and maintained appropriately to ensure a smooth opening (landscaping, maintenance, etc.).

Preparing Rides and Attractions 

  • Consult attraction manuals for manufacturers’ advice on how to close/ re-open rides in regard to extended closures. Every ride is different and should be checked on a case by case basis.
  • For most attractions, I recommend maintenance teams complete the “Preventative Maintenance Check” listed in the Manufacturers Manual or the monthly maintenance checklist.
  • Operate each ride once a week for at least three cycles to prevent stagnation and corrosion (ensure rotation of different ride vehicles when applicable).
  • Consider lightning protection on cables, electrical equipment, and other sensitive or conductive elements.
  • Consider bringing monthly or annual maintenance forward on tracks and vehicles during this closure period.

Consider the following steps when preparing to reopen after temporary closure.

  • Consult with local governments’ Health and Safety teams about what requirements are needed to consider reopening. The safety of the staff and guests should come first.
  • Partial openings to ensure social distancing might be required. Additional queue line space might be required with indications for guest to comply to a minimal distance between guests. Park capacity might be limited to avoid large groups forming.
  • Ensure enough time, staff, and resources are available for training, cleaning, and reopening the park.
  • Certain parks might already have mitigation measures in place from previous closures like providing and enforcing hand sanitizing at key locations in the park, temperature checks, social distancing in gathering places like staff canteens, etc. Continue to use them.
  • The marketing department will need to re-energise and build faith that the park is a safe place to come and enjoy once again.
  • Notices about measures that are in place in the park are required to inform and educate guests about new procedures in regard to the current COVID-19 situation.
  • All elements put in storage and covered must be re-instated.
  • Rides and attractions should undergo extensive (pre-season) checks and procedures by maintenance and operations to ensure that they are safe to operate. Once again, the maintenance and operations manufacturer manual will guide this for each attraction, however parks are recommended to ensure extra focus on pre-opening inspections after extended closure to ensure equipment is in good condition, ride paths are clear, etc.

The state and stages in which parks will be reopening in the post-COVID-19 era will be a new challenge for everyone to face. Continued support for staff, guest, and industry is required.

Continue to put safety first and share best practices.

With thanks to Daan Duijm, Director of Operations and Set Up at SunWorld Holding in Vietnam. Dujim has worked with companies including Disney, Jumeirah, and Merlin Entertainments with expertise in theme/water park management, guest service, and operational excellence.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.

Image: The Sun Group's Aquatopia Waterpark.

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