The coronavirus is threatening the single most important event for theme parks—Halloween

With caps on attendance and new coronavirus security pointers, together with necessary masks carrying and social distancing, theme parks have needed to reimagine their Halloween festivities this 12 months.

The fall vacation has morphed into the single most important event for theme parks, Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Parks Services, mentioned. 

“A down Halloween or a flat Halloween can make or break a park’s season,” Speigel mentioned. “This season we are so broken, it’s just going to take our revenue and attendance levels to the lowest level we’ve ever seen.”

Halloween occasions, which vary from haunted homes and scare zones to kid-friendly parades and trick-or-treating cubicles, have change into extremely fashionable with friends in the U.S. and overseas. These occasions typically pad the backside line for theme park operators like UniversalDisney and Six Flags. 

At first, Halloween occasions have been a method to prolong operations at regional parks effectively into the autumn months. Roller coasters are much less interesting throughout colder climate and, with college again in session, households aren’t in a position to go to parks throughout the weekdays in the fall. 

Over time, it developed into profitable months-long festivals. Theme parks throughout the U.S. herald the hay bales, big jack-o’-lanterns and cobwebs as early as August to kick-off the spooky season. Typically,  Halloween occasions happen after conventional park hours and require a separate ticket buy. So the parks are creating wealth from each the friends that go to throughout the day and people who arrive when the solar goes down.

These occasions, significantly ones with a number of haunted homes, draw friends for a number of nights. Six Flags famous throughout an earnings name final 12 months that guests typically come to the park three to 4 instances to expertise the event.

A scary good time

For some parks, like Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and SeaWorld-owned Busch Gardens, Halloween is all about gore, scares and screams. These parks design elaborate mazes crammed with creepy creatures and loads of bounce scares. 

Knott’s Berry Farm, which launched its Knott’s Scary Farm event in 1973, was the first park to dream up a Halloween-themed event. Unfortunately, for the park, which is owned by Cedar Fair, California has not lifted restrictions on theme parks reopening in the state, so it has been unable to host its annual Halloween event.

“Being the original creators of the very first Halloween theme-park experience, our guests have come to expect a lot from our annual Knott’s Scary Farm event,” Knott’s Berry Farm mentioned in an announcement to CNBC.

“When evaluating what to do this Halloween season, our biggest challenge was trying to figure out how to create and deliver an experience that our guests will enjoy while ensuring they are staying 6 feet apart, wearing a mask at all times, continuously sanitizing all highly-touched surfaces, adding sanitizing stations, touchless transactions, and limiting contact while at the park,” it mentioned.

This 12 months, the park is providing Knott’s Taste of Fall-O-Ween, an outside eating and retail expertise. Currently, Knott’s Berry Farm is capping attendance between 10% and 15% of what it usually can be and has offered out its tickets on a regular basis it has been open.

“We were ready to safely open our park when given clearance, and it was disappointing to not be given guidance to entertain more of our guests who look forward to Halloween at Knott’s every year,” a consultant for the park mentioned.

And it is not the just one. Last 12 months, SeaWorld noticed attendance in the fourth quarter bounce 2.2% regardless of unfavorable climate. The firm mentioned that its Halloween event was one cause for the uptick. 

SeaWorld owns Busch Gardens, which has parks in Virginia and Florida. It’s Florida park, Busch Garden’s Tampa Bay, started planning its annual Howl-O-Scream event again in February.

“Over the past 20 years, Howl-O-Scream has become a haunted staple among Halloween fans, drawing thrill seekers from around the world to the Tampa Bay area,” Busch Gardens Tampa Bay mentioned in an announcement. “The event is highly-anticipated each year, with many fans eagerly reaching out and making plans in the spring to attend in the fall.”

A spooky wolf-like creature from Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s new out of doors scare zone Lycan Landing.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

The crew needed to shortly adapt to new security protocols and create an expertise that was extra socially distant. All scare actors put on protecting face coverings and stay additional away from friends than they normally would. 

Instead of conventional indoor haunted homes, the park has 10 open-air scare zones that friends can enterprise via.

Universal Studios, too, sees a giant spike in foot visitors and income throughout the fall months. The Comcast-owned firm hosts an annual event referred to as Halloween Horror Nights, which helped increase income at its theme parks 3.2% to $1.6 billion throughout the fourth quarter final 12 months.

“Over 900,000 people went to Universal just for Halloween,” Speigel mentioned of final 12 months’s festivities.

However, attributable to decreased capability and the continued closure of its California-based park, Universal canceled its Halloween Horror Nights event in July. This 12 months would have been its 30th anniversary.

Universal Studios didn’t instantly reply to CNBC’s request for remark.

Last 12 months, the park had 10 haunted homes, together with ones that includes characters from “Us,” “Stranger Things,” and “Ghostbusters.” This 12 months, there are solely two haunted homes and they’re accessible to tour throughout the daytime as an alternative of after hours.

Spooky alternate options

Without its marquee Halloween event, Universal has developed different, socially distant, methods for friends to get pleasure from the vacation. The park added a scavenger hunt referred to as Scarecrow Stalk, 13 scarecrows and skeletons that may be discovered all through the park, and the Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store, which has 4 themed rooms with spooky merchandise and specialty meals.

“We are seeing theme parks adapt as best they can in order to stay engaged with their park guests,” Eric Wold, analyst at B. Riley FBR, mentioned. “While the experience could be seen as not as exciting to some guests, we would expect parks to make the most of it and still drive an enjoyable experience for attendees.”

While different parks delve deep into the scares, Disney leans into “Hocus Pocus,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and dozens of iconic villains for a “not-so-scary” expertise for households.

In 2019, the parks, experiences and merchandise phase for Disney noticed income for the quarter rise 8% to $7.four billion from the prior 12 months. That unit consists of all of Disney’s home and worldwide theme parks, its cruise traces, accommodations and excursions, in addition to its merchandise.

In the previous, Disney has supplied a variety of parades, fireworks reveals and in-park leisure. This 12 months, with attendance caps and gathering restrictions, the firm has additionally needed to get artistic with its celebrations.

Disney has small processions of iconic Disney characters that make appearances all through the day and the Dapper Dans from Magic Kingdom have been reworked into The Cadaver Dans to carry out undead a cappella for friends.

Additionally, Disney has made a whole lot of Halloween-themed merchandise accessible on-line for these friends that are not in a position to enterprise to the parks this 12 months. 

Halloween merchandise accessible at Disney Parks and on-line at storeDisney.


“We know how much our guests enjoy experiencing these special moments with their families and that’s why we’re giving them more ways than ever to celebrate the seasons with Disney magic,” Jill Estorino, president and managing director for Disney Parks International, mentioned.

Disney’s capability to shift to providing extra shopper merchandise and retail experiences is not one thing that every one theme parks are in a position to do to. Especially, for parks that are not open year-round.

And the troubles that theme park operators are seeing this 12 months aren’t more likely to disappear shortly. 

A weekly report revealed by Morning Consult signifies, as of Oct. 5, solely round 21% of customers really feel snug returning to amusement parks.

“This isn’t going away,” Speigel mentioned. “We are going to be experiencing this in 2021. People just aren’t ready, there is still this fear.”

Disclosure: Comcast is the mother or father firm of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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