A somewhat rocky reopening is afoot in America as businesses try to meld governmental mandates with the realities of foot traffic to forge new models from existing retail concepts.
This is playing out in theme parks and casinos right now, for example, as these travel and hospitality stalwarts map out ways to reopen safely while preserving their unique selling proposition — the kinetic live experiences that made them world-famous in the first place.
Having surveyed over 18,000 consumers since mid-March to fathom COVID-era sentiments and behaviors, PYMNTS is creating a recovery framework, more about which will be revealed shortly. It addresses precisely what live entertainment venues, among other businesses, need to consider in their approaches to building new models aligned with permanent changes.
“Going forward, success will be defined by how businesses manage what I call the Digital 3.0 FIT® Framework: their ability to eliminate Friction for the consumer, and in doing so, giving consumers the incentive to move past the Inertia that once kept them from trying something new. That leads to preserving their second-most valuable asset, next to their health: their Time,” PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster wrote in her latest commentary.
A Makeover For The Mouse
Mighty Disney is trying to keep “the happiest place on earth” smiling — though smiles will need to be printed on face masks — as they slowly reopen a bicoastal entertainment kingdom that have a very different vibe from that of just a few months ago.
With Florida COVID-19 infections spiking in recent weeks and California moving more cautiously than many other states, Disney’s theme park business is between a rock and a hard place. And while Disney hotels and restaurants on both coasts remained closed this week, parts of both parks are open, albeit with social distancing, limits on dining and other restrictions in place.
The Disneyland site states that “upon reopening, certain parks, hotels, restaurants, attractions, experiences and other offerings will be modified or unavailable, will have limited capacity and will be subject to limited availability or even closure, and park admission and offerings are not guaranteed.” The conglomerate was hit hard in the first months of 2020, with overall revenue down $1.4 billion “largely stemming from its ravaged theme park sector,” PYMNTS reported.
On the other hand, Hong Kong Disneyland — which reopened less than a month ago — announced plans Monday to close once again later this week after Hong Kong authorities reinstituted lockdown rules there following a new spike on coronavirus cases.
Casinos Double Down Despite COVID
While online gaming is doing record numbers during the pandemic, America’s casinos aren’t nearly as flush. Like their theme park cousins, casinos are similarly reopening with a certain clinical feel that doesn’t whisper, “Vegas, baby.”
The American Gaming Association (AGA) has been following the reopening of U.S. gaming sites with its COVID-19 Casino Tracker, as state and local authorities monitor for signs of new infection. About half of the country’s roughly 1,000 casinos had reopened in some fashion in June, according to industry reports.
State authorities have been effectively overruled by some operators, including the tribal nation owners of Connecticut’s Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun Resorts — both located on sovereign tribal lands — which reopened prior to the state granting permission.
As is the case with theme parks, most casino hotels and restaurants across the country remained closed in mid-July although on-site gaming with social distancing is happening.
Contactless Gets The Nod
Among trends to watch as theme parks, casinos, water parks and other venues reopen more of their facilities to larger crowds will be appearance and likely ubiquity of contactless payments.
The AGA has drafted Principles for Casino Gaming Payments Modernization proposing a wholesale upgrade of gaming payments preference.
“In a heightened public health environment, consumers want to use the payment choice that makes them most comfortable. Consumer concerns about handling cash could persist beyond the COVID-19 pandemic,” the AGA proposal states. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state agencies recently issued guidelines and regulations to encourage contactless payments as a public health priority for American businesses. By providing gaming patrons with digital payment choices operators can foster greater customer confidence, enabling customers to enjoy their experience using the payment option they prefer.”
Additionally, the AGA has released reopening guidance for casinos.
“To prepare for a safe, responsible reopening, casino operators have been rethinking every aspect of the gaming experience and establishing robust protocols to safeguard the health of guests and employees. These new protocols align with guidance and recommendations from the CDC and state and local health officials and are designed to promote a healthy environment in the communities where we operate,” the guidance states.
Disney and other theme park operators are doing the same, with more touchless options expected to appear in parks as Florida vacation season particularly is not far off.