Munich The ghost trains stand still. Nevertheless – or perhaps because of it – it is a scary time for amusement park operators. Actually, the companies wanted to open their attractions until well into winter this year in order to compensate for the loss of sales from the spring. Nothing will come of that: All over Europe, the resorts had to close prematurely due to the corona pandemic.
“This is a hard blow for the parks,” says Jakob Wahl, Executive Director of the World Association of Amusement Parks IAAPA, the Handelsblatt. “The extended opening in autumn was a prospect for many parks, especially for those with their own hotels.”
Before the beginning of December, however, hardly a park in Europe is likely to receive visitors again – and even that is highly unsafe. It would be extremely important to sell tickets at least over the holidays. “This is a time of high turnover for some operators,” stresses Wahl.
The new lockdowns across Europe are draining the substance of many previously healthy companies. “Our reserves are melting dramatically,” complains Roland Mack, boss and partner of the Europapark in Rust, Baden. The entrepreneur puts the loss of sales at the largest German amusement park at 100 million euros. Mack: “As a medium-sized company, we can only get through this economically because we have done well for decades.”
Industry normally makes billions in sales
The leisure industry is an industry that should not be underestimated. According to the IAAPA, operators in Europe typically sell more than 270 million tickets each year. The association covers more than 300 amusement parks, over 500 entertainment facilities for families and 235 water parks. They generate sales of almost ten billion euros per year and employ almost 90,000 people.
According to IAAPA, the 71 operators in Germany had 46 million visitors in 2018. They posted revenues of almost 1.2 billion euros and employed around 15,000 people.
Most German amusement parks are family-run businesses that cannot be looked at in figures. It’s different in the USA, where many operators are listed. The latest results of the corporations reveal the whole misery of the industry.
Six Flags’ sales fell by 80 percent between July and the end of September compared to the previous year. The US group announced that the park’s occupancy rate was only 35 percent of the number of visitors last year. Nine of the 26 entertainment venues were completely closed in the third quarter.
Disney recently cut 28,000 jobs in its parking division – that’s around a quarter of the workforce. The Disneyland roller coasters in the Californian home of the entertainment group have been parked in the depots since spring. The authorities have also paralyzed all other parks in the state, such as Legoland, since March.
This leads to deep red numbers for the operators: Comcast had to accept an operating loss of $ 200 million with its Universal parks in the third quarter – with only a good $ 300 million in revenue. For comparison: Last year the business was still highly profitable, and sales reached a good 1.6 billion dollars.
In Europe, the corona pandemic hit parks very differently this year. The operators in the south of Europe suffered the most, because they live from foreign guests – and in view of the travel warnings, they usually didn’t.
Parks with a regional catchment area, on the other hand, found it easier than those that depend on tourists. Something else helped many companies with a large, regional catchment area: “There were fewer guests in the parks. But those who came spent more, ”says Wahl.
Swedish parks suffered particularly
The number of visitors was limited everywhere so that the guests could keep their distance. So, all in all, the business was not really worth it. “At best, we are making a black zero when operating at the current level,” Europapark boss Mack complained in the summer.
The parks in Sweden fared worst: in the Scandinavian country, the gates were barred all year round. In the country of all places where there were the least restrictions on the population. However, people were not allowed to ride roller coaster at any time during the pandemic.
Will the rides move next year? That depends on the authorities – and on the guests. Association representative Wahl says: “A central question is whether people will be able to and want to travel again next year.”
At the moment only one thing is certain: Another year like 2020 and many operators will have to give up.
More: The ski season is in danger – the winter sports industry is hoping for open slopes in December.