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IAAPA releases study detailing impact of COVID-19 on US attractions

The association calls for elected officials to allow for a safe reopening of the industry and to pass additional COVID-related relief legislation

theme parks coronavirus family at Universal Orlando in masks

IAAPA, the global association for the attractions industry, has revealed the results of its recent study, measuring the impact of the global pandemic on the US attractions industry workforce. This latest research shows the huge extent to which the sector and those working within it have been affected, tens of thousands of jobs having been lost.

In fact, the study shows that the attractions industry in the country has an employment loss five times larger than the average loss across all other industries.

Support needed

Jim Futrell, IAAPA historian and market research professional, compiled the report, which highlights how the sector is in need of support from elected officials and policymakers, who can help attractions to reopen safely and spearhead relief legislation.

“Just as amusement parks and arcades, historical sites, zoos and other attractions were ramping up seasonal hiring last year, the economy shut down,” says John Hallenbeck, vice president, North America, IAAPA.

“That meant a sudden and immediate drop in employment. It’s imperative to the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Americans that state and local governments continue to push for the safe reopening of attractions facilities as soon as possible.”

The study uses data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics (CES) and Census of Employment and Wages (CEW) programmes. Some of the key findings are:

  • Employees from member industries, such as amusement and theme parks, arcades, historical sites, museums, zoos and aquariums, nature parks and other similar institutions, saw their wages fall by nearly $1.1 billion when comparing the second quarter of 2020 to the same period in 2019.
  • Amusement and theme park employees were some of those hit hardest, accounting for 70% of this drop.
  • In July 2020, generally the peak month of employment for the sector, employment fell by 165,000 or 35% compared to July 2019.
  • Lost positions in amusement parks and arcades were five times larger than the average loss across other industries.
  • Instead of the typical seasonal employment increase, US attractions saw a combined drop of more than 125,000 employees between March and May 2020, with some sectors seeing employment levels not seen since 1990.

 The economic impact has been devastating. Some attractions have not yet reopened, even with COVID-19 safety protocols in place. Some closed for long periods last year, while others remained open, but with visitor numbers capped. Many will never reopen again; the effects of lost revenue and business for such an extended time were too much to overcome.

Regional differences

There are regional differences – the recovery in Florida, which worked quickly to reopen facilities with safety protocols in place, has been faster than in states like California, Massachusetts, Illinois and New York, which have mainly kept attractions closed.

Industry employment in California last summer showed a consistent drop of about 60% over the previous year through October. Meanwhile, Florida’s dip was far less dramatic, at around 30%, after a partial reopening began in July 2020.

Futrell says that many factors have contributed to continued employment impacts even in regions that have reopened. “While IAAPA members that have reopened have proven they can do so safely, these businesses continue to struggle due to consumer reluctance and guest capacity limitations, severely affecting revenue and the ability to bring back and rehire staff to previous levels.”

Reopening guidance

Last July, IAAPA published detailed guidance for attractions as they reopened, which is being continually updated in partnership with attractions industry leaders around the world, and in consultation with medical professionals and government agencies. The guidelines have also been referenced globally by the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the World Tourism and Travel Council.

“COVID-19 has devastated our industry. IAAPA estimates the effects of the pandemic will have cost $23 billion in economic losses in 2020 alone,” says Hallenbeck. “On behalf of our industry and the thousands of people who rely upon it, I strongly urge Congress to pass additional relief legislation that includes attractions industry-specific support.

“This should include additional PPP funding, an extension of the employee retention tax credit through 2021, and financial aid to state and local governments to allow for the creation of grant and loan programs specific to our industry and liability protection for businesses that can safely reopen. And I encourage elected officials to continue to work on reopening businesses in their states.

“Safety has always been the attractions industry’s number-one priority. That will never change. Parks and attractions are ready to reopen responsibly and can do so with guidance and regional support.”

Last month, IAAPA announced that IAAPA Expo Asia 2021 will now be held in Shanghai, China, from 10 -13 August. The event was originally scheduled to take place in Macao in June 2021

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is Features Editor at Blooloop. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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