TEA News

26 May 2020

Perspectives on reopening and designing for the future - Brian Sands moderates May 20 TEA webinar

"Perspectives on reopening and designing for the future" was a discussion of challenges faced and top criteria to address in regard to reopening theme parks and attractions in #COVID times.

The #TEAdigital webinar presented by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) on May 20, 2020 and moderated by Brian Sands of HKS Advisory Services covered a range of professional perspectives: operator, manufacturer, designer, consultant.

About 200 people attended the live webinar; it was recorded and can be viewed in its entirety on TEA TV at this link. Speakers' statements are summarized below. Recognizing that the webinar audience was made up of attractions industry colleagues, they were also invited to participate via two polls during the webinar, and the results are shown here, in charts below.

Many thanks to everyone who took part and helped make this event a success. Learn more about TEA Digital

Results of poll #1 taken among the webinar audience during the event


webinar presenters

  • Brian Sands, Principal/SVP, HKS Advisory Services (Moderator) - TEA International Board Treasurer
  • Craig Hanna, Chief Creative Officer/Owner, Thinkwell Group - TEA Past President
  • Sarah Campbell Holton, Strategic and Operations Healthcare Advisor, HKS Advisory Services
  • Thorsten Koebele, Chief Officer Sales and Marketing, Mack Rides GmbH & Co KG
  • Alan Mahony, Vice President, Marine & Waterpark Operations, Atlantis Resort Sanya


Watch the full webinar recording on TEA TV



slowly but surely

Introducing the webinar, Brian Sands emphasized that panelists were giving their individual perspectives on the reopening of attractions, based on their experiences (not specific advice.) Citing figures from the World Trade Organization (WTO), he noted that global travel had been on an upward trend over the past two decades, to the great benefit of the attractions industry. The COVID crisis has led to a loss of 67 million global arrivals and an uncertain outlook.

“We will get through this together, slowly but surely,” he said.

Brian Sands at the 2017 TEA Summit, with TEA COO Jennie Nevin


Operator in China that has already reopened: Alan Mahony

“It’s very important to reopen and get guests back in,” said Mahoney.

This marine and waterpark resort in Sanya, China had been doing well, close to full occupancy when in January they were obliged to close operations. Staff were quarantined in dormitories. They were able to re-open the aquarium first, within six weeks of the initial closing. Things are going well and the hotel is picking up capacity. The challenge now: to generate revenue.

Guests go through multiple temperature checks and have access to hand sanitizing stations all around the park. Guests are also required to have a “green” status on a special safety app used in China. Queuelines measure off spacing distances, but these can be challenging to enforce. In the waterpark, attractions are rotated, allowing guests a chance to experience the whole park while facilitating cleaning and maintenance. Attendance is capped at 30% of capacity per government regulations.

The Chinese are now traveling domestically, and the resort is catering to local market, reaching out to host members of the healthcare industry, working with local airlines and chartering flights. The waterpark is doing better than aquarium, possibly because people feel safer and more relaxed in the outdoor environment. All guests must wear masks in the aquarium and have them available in the waterpark. We designed our own masks. Areas that people touch are cleaned every 15 minutes. The aquarium is closed for a full, one-hour cleaning at midday, every day. Operating costs were scrutinized; senior management are at reduced pay and staff hours were cut in order to keep everyone working.

“We have treated our team as family.”

Atlantis Sanya Resort


Manufacturer & operator in Europe, reopening May 29: Thorston Koebele

Europe’s lockdown scenario has varied from country by country. For their part, in Germany, they were able to continue running the Mack Rides manufacturing facility with certain restrictions. Europa-Park, which is owned by the Mack family, was closed, but will re-open May 29, with restrictions.

Long-term manufacturing projects have helped keep things going, but there have been postponements. Being a small business with close relationships helps the company find solutions together with clients, who are getting used to the situation and starting to think productively about the future.

“Extraordinary situations stimulate innovative new ideas,” said Koebele. In the park and on the manufacturing side, the pause has given them spare time to explore and develop some new product ideas. He noted that they’ve been impressed with how responsibly employees have been working from home.

Europa-Park is utilizing online ticket sales to minimize contact, and control the number of people coming into the park. They are implementing social distancing and hygienic stations. They will not be operating the shows at present. Indoor queuelines are moving outdoors; restaurant seating is halved; rides will operate with one guest per row in vehicles or trains except for family groups; masks are required for staff and guests; virtual queuing will be implemented with a gaming twist.

“Stay with your customers and prepare to react accordingly when things reopen. Having the confidence of your visitors, and listening to them, are more important than ever. The learning curve will be very steep. Be pro-active.”

The TEA SATE Europe 2018 conference on Experience Design was held at Europa-Park


Experience designer: Craig Hanna

Clients are “looking at the day after tomorrow,” said Hanna - revisiting design and guest flow fundamentals and protocols: entry gate layout, queues and the redistribution of guests within a park or attraction. Parks, anticipating less revenue, are cutting soft programming to balance things economically, but those cuts affect the guest experience.

Graphics and wayfinding are key but must be carefully balanced against guests’ having “graphic fatigue” and tuning them out. R&D lab working on touchless interactives, from ATM to museum exhibit or a post-show experience. From an entertainment standpoint, looking at “reverse parade” concept where audience walks past the parade in a pulsed flow. “Take all best design practices for this new model and see what it does to density and area development - what do you get when you take guests out of queues and put them out into the park? Accommodate for that in space layout and planning.”

Guest compliance and comfort are big issues. Storytelling raises new design questions. “How are story and immersion going to be delivered in a queue if you don’t have a queue? If you don’t want to starve the load of attraction, what is your pre-experience, how do you deliver the backstory points?” Everything requires more space. Retail and restaurants are affected. Capacity, hours and dwell space must all be looked at holistically.

“I would love to believe that once we have a COVID vaccine, we will return to normal-normal instead of new-normal. Meanwhile: If a park or attraction’s capacity is limited, doesn’t that make the experience more exclusive and shouldn’t that be exploited as a positive?”

TEA Past President Craig Hanna of Thinkwell Group, with fellow TEA Past President Roberta Perry,
onstage at the 2016 TEA Thea Awards Gala


Consultant: Sarah Campbell Holton

A specialist in critical events with a background in healthcare, Holton advises multiple industries connected to attractions, travel and hospitality. She sees an opportunity to study balancing the need to provide guests with a safe environment, with guests’ need for escape. “COVID is going to be very personal and unique; the way individuals alter experience will have to do with how they have been personally impacted.”

Bringing in some of the considerations she has encountered in other industries, Holton points to the need to focus attention on maintaining the wellness of the people working in parks. The new conditions will make them vulnerable to what’s known in healthcare circles as “compassion fatigue.” She said, “People get tired of performing at a certain level. Interacting with the public, the ability to put your shiny face on erodes.” Workers will need respite spaces offstage. Guests and their families will also need spaces to help them let go of stress.

Services are becoming more personal by necessity, pointing to a new model for protecting and accommodating visitors on all parts of their outing, carving out spaces for people to stay together with their group.

“There are so many ways we can solve this if we share solutions with one another.”

Results of poll #2 taken among the webinar audience during the event


Article for TEA by Judith Rubin












Posted by Judy Rubin



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