Address the leaders of Walt disney (NYSE: DIS), Parent d’Universal Orlando Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCS.A), and SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE: MER)DeSantis praised the protocols closed attractions have in place to make a day at the park safe for guests and employees. New cases of COVID-19 in Florida have fallen sharply since Disney World opened in mid-July, silencing critics who estimated that crowds gathering at iconic state attractions by the thousands, and in some cases, tens of thousands would worsen the pandemic.
The industry has opened up to a limited number of guests starting in early June, but DeSantis apparently thinks it’s time to start giving theme parks a longer leash. It’s unofficial, but DeSantis said on Wednesday he believed operators deserved the right to increase the number of guests allowed through their turnstiles on any given day. This is a positive step for Florida’s vital tourism market, but will demand keep pace with increased supply? The answer may not be very comforting.
While waiting for the journey to begin
Pulling on yellow straps is a rite of passage for Disney World thrill seekers. A few of the more wild rides have seat belts that have yellow straps that the cast members ask guests to pull on before the ride begins. It’s a safety protocol to make sure they are safe and ready to enjoy the ride.
Florida, giving theme parks the chance to increase capacity – and it’s pretty much a given now that DeSantis is talking about it publicly – is a bit like a yellow strap check. Disney World, Universal and SeaWorld are pulling tabs, but what if there’s no guest to secure?
Comcast’s Universal Orlando has never reached capacity at its two iconic theme parks since it opened in early June. Only its much smaller water park has had to turn away customers after hitting its small cap. SeaWorld Orlando has asked customers to make dated reservations to ensure they don’t exceed maximum occupancy levels, and they’re never short of those digital claims.
Disney World is another story. He followed the reservation route like SeaWorld, but he allocated his daily entries in three baskets. Customers with overnight stays at an on-site resort and people purchasing day tickets have had fairly open availability. The third basket of reservations – annual pass holders – had to face a more difficult time to gain daily access. This is the only group that would immediately benefit from an increase in capacity restrictions, but will it matter?
The high summer season is over. Florida schools begin the fall semester. Disney and Comcast have canceled their popular Halloween events, a move that hurts Disney but crushes Universal Orlando where Halloween Horror Nights is a major draw. International travel restrictions are still in place. Interstate travel is possible but remains largely frowned upon. We’re also in a recession, and a week or weekend getaway is fun, but not a necessity.
DeSantis gives the green light to theme parks the moment the light turns yellow. Yellow zipper. It might not make sense, but it might be for the best. As long as social distancing measures are in place and crowd-eating experiences like parades and fireworks aren’t allowed, where would the extra people go? You can’t put more people in passenger vehicles and in performance halls where large empty seating spaces exist to keep parties six feet apart. These problems will continue until COVID-19 is truly contained and these security measures are lifted. Until the world can collectively pull on the yellow strap to make sure the protections are secure, this ride is going nowhere.