Girls on a roller coaster at a theme park

Theme parks are usually the happiest places on earth. Now that happiness has been put on hold. In the last several weeks, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has forced U.S. theme park giants to shut their gates, suspend operations and pause construction on all new rides and attractions. But operators are working diligently during this downtime to figure out just how to reopen safely, and what safety and wellness measures to take when they do. Read on to understand how COVID-19 is impacting theme parks today and five ways theme park marketers can plan now to reach customers and new audiences in the future.

Reading Consumers’ Minds

The biggest question on theme park marketers’ minds amid the pandemic must be, What are people thinking? To find out, Performance Research, a leading sports and event research and consulting firm, decided to team up with national online sampling partner Full Circle Research Co. on the Impact of COVID-19 on Live Events Study. When they asked consumers what would be top of mind for them when returning to events, here’s what they found:

COVID-19-impacting-theme-park-chart

Venue cleanliness and sanitation as well as general health safety made the top of the list. So what hygiene precautions are theme park operators considering before welcoming guests again? Checking temperatures before allowing guests to enter the park and ensuring social distancing while guests wait in line for rides are two. “One of the things that we’re discussing already is that in order to return to some semblance of normal, people will have to feel comfortable that they’re safe,” said Disney’s Executive Chairman, Bob Iger. “Just as we now do bag checks for everybody that goes into our parks, it could be that at some point we add a component of that that takes people’s temperatures, as a for-instance.”

Jed Pearsall, founder of Performance Research, said, “The results of this study, conducted in what may be the height of anxiety regarding the pandemic, show that eventgoers will come back, albeit with reservations and a limited sense of urgency, “ he said. “When considering all the barriers to event attendance, perhaps nothing can be more personal and emotional than health and safety.”

Understanding How Customers Think

Six Flags also did a little recent research of its own. It sent a survey to its customers asking what their COVID-19 concerns were and how they thought Six Flags should respond to the pandemic. This was a natural approach for the theme park. In a statement provided to Business Insider on the survey, Six Flags shared, “We are a guest-focused company. The opinions and sentiments of our guests matter greatly to us.”

Living in the Now, Focusing on the Future

Since the theme park industry is dealing with a slew of unknowns due to COVID-19, it’s easy to see how you could get stuck in the now. But here are five ways you can start planning for how to connect with customers and new audiences in the future:

  1. Ensure actions speak louder than words. Put health-related precautions in place to make your guests feel safe. Build a go-to-market strategy that will showcase your careful planning and all the work you’ve done to ensure guest wellness and safety. Reach out to the right customers and prospects and work at building emotional connections over achieving better campaign performance or more sales. When life returns to normal, people will remember how brands made them feel during a time of crisis.
  2. Show less is more. Once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has deemed theme parks safe again, customers will still be trepidatious about gathering in large groups. Ease their anxiety by simplifying online offerings and streamlining the digital user experience, which can both help reduce confusion and online bounce rates as users weigh their options.
  3. Rely on contactless communication. In the new era of social distancing, get mobile technology on your side. Enhance your mobile in-app experience so your customers can make purchases, receive alerts, get real-time notifications, access park maps and more. Consider even letting guests scan their phone to enter the park.
  4. Change strategy. With TV upfronts delayed, sports canceled and a recession looming, ensure your marketing strategy is precise. Understand consumer sentiment shifts, spending habits and media consumption to make every dollar count. This knowledge can help you reach the right audiences with the right messages. And to guide people back to your brand and to your park, be flexible and willing to change your strategy often to keep up with changing consumer behavior.
  5. Make first-party data your first priority. Evaluate and update your first-party data. Break down any data siloes. Consolidate your customer data so it’s insightful, actionable and measurable. Be sure to model audiences and gain insight into your highest lifetime value customers to get a strong indication of just whom to reach when your park can reopen.

For more industry-specific info and recommendations to combat COVID-19, sign up for our free newsletter. Or reach out to us. We can help you feel prepared and ready for that happy day – when your theme park gates can swing open again, new attractions can launch again, and you can again get back to business – the business of making magic.