“We don’t anticipate in the immediate term any of these larger parks opening until we see more stability in terms of the data.” Those are the long-awaited words of California Gov. Gavin Newsom on the fate of the state’s still-closed amusement parks.
“We feel there’s no hurry to put out guidelines, and we continue to work with the industry,” he continued.
Those words will not land softy on the ears of those who run local theme parks, including Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Collectively and individually, they have called on the governor over the past few weeks to allow them to reopen, saying that their business is more amenable to preventing COVID than many that have already been allowed to open in the state.
Disney later issued a statement from Dr. Pamela Hymel, Chief Medical Officer, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products that read in part, “We absolutely reject the suggestion that reopening the Disneyland Resort is incompatible with a ‘health-first’ approach.” Read the full statement here.
The California Attractions and Parks Association also responded saying in part:
We find it disconcerting that Governor Newsom has no planned timeline for issuing guidance for theme parks, and of great concern that he does not anticipate theme parks opening soon. Each day that parks are closed further decimates the amusement park industry. The Governor’s “no big rush” approach is ruining businesses and livelihoods for thousands who could responsibly be back at work.
Read the full CAPA statement here.
Josh D’Amaro, the new chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, weeks ago begged California officials to let Disneyland reopen and to “treat theme parks the way you treat other sectors.”
Unlike most other industries, there is no specific guidance for theme parks in Newsom’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” That means there is no way for them to reopen, no path for them to follow.
D’Amaro pleaded with the state, saying the Anaheim park is ready to open and will follow any guidelines.
“To our California government officials, particularly at the state level, I encourage you to treat theme parks like you would other sectors and help us reopen. We need guidelines that are fair and equitable so we can better understand our future and chart a path toward reopening,” said D’Amaro, who took the top parks job in May.
“The longer we wait, the more devastating the impact will be to the Orange County and Anaheim communities and to the tens of thousands of people who rely on us for employment. With the right guidelines and our years of operations experience, I am confident that we can restart and get people back to work.”
“We’re ready. And more importantly, it’s time,” he said.
After those comments and little resolution, D’Amaro said last week the company will be laying off 28,000 staff at its theme parks, the segment of the company hardest hit by the pandemic. The cuts will come at the executive, salaried and hourly level, though the bulk of the hit — or 67%, the company said — will fall on part-time workers.
Also last week, a large group of California state senators and assemblymembers sent a letter to Newsom on Monday requesting that Newsom issue guidelines for parks such as Disneyland, Universal Studios and Knott’s Berry Farm to reopen.
From the letter: “Many indoor facilities are already operating safely at reduced capacities, with face covering and physical distancing requirements, and with heightened hygiene practices. Logic would suggest that since theme parks are controlled venues operating predominantly outdoors, that they too could reopen with similar health and safety protocols.”
Mayors of local cities impacted by the parks’ closures — including Buena Park, Garden Grove and Anaheim — have called on Newsom to issue guidelines for the parks top follow so they could reopen.
The governor’s response generally has been short and limited to saying the guidelines would be coming “very soon.” That’s why Wednesday’s statement is such a shocker.
According to the Orange County Register, that county’s Health Care Agency recommended last week that the state allow local parks to reopen when the county moves — appropriately — into the Orange or “moderate” tier of Newsom’s four-tier reopening plan.
Newsom also revealed on Wednesday that the resignation of Disney Chairman Bob Iger from the state task force for economic recovery was related to their disagreements over the reopenings.
“I had a wonderful conversation with Bob, who’s been very active and participatory,” the governor said. “I’m incredibly grateful for his support, his insight, his counsel.”
When asked about Iger’s departure, Newsom said: “It didn’t come to me as a surprise at all. There’s disagreements in terms of opening a major theme park. We’re going to let science and data make that determination.
“I understand the dialectic,” he added, “the friction that many business leaders have that they want to move forward … but we’re going to be led by a health-first framework, and we’re going to be stubborn about it.”
Iger was a charter member of the bipartisan task force that Newsom said when it was formed in April would include “the best and brightest leaders” and focus on “a safe reset, a safe restart for a roadmap for recovery — predicated on health, predicated on data, predicated on science.” It is co-chaired by former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer and Newsom’s chief of staff Ann O’Leary, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. The groups also includes tech CEOs like Apple’s Tim Cook, state politicians, former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and California four most recent governors: Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson.
Movie theaters and theme parks are among the entertainment businesses hardest hit by COVID. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said at an investor conference last week that Universal theme parks are currently 70% of the media giant’s COVID problem. The Orlando and Osaka parks are operating at 25% of pre-pandemic attendance and Universal Studios – like Disneyland – has yet to open.
Disney’s U.S. parks business in California and Florida has been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to Disneyland in Anaheim, Disney World in Orlando and other attractions were forced to close in March. The Florida resort reopened in on July 11 with reduced capacity and COVID protocols in place, but it has dealt with some challenges since including more cancellations at the park than top executives first anticipated.
You can watch Newsom’s news conference below.