Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

March 2021

Study Details Hard-Hitting Impact of COVID-19 on U.S. Attractions Industry

A study released by IAAPA, the global association for the attractions industry, details the massive scope of COVID-19's impact on the U.S. attractions industry workforce-with an employment loss five times larger than the average loss across all other industries. In addition, the association is calling on U.S. elected officials to allow for safe reopening of the industry and passing of additional COVID-related relief legislation to support the industry.

The report, compiled by Jim Futrell, IAAPA historian and market research professional, showcases an industry in dire need of support from elected officials and policymakers who play a key role in facilitating the safe reopening of attractions and can spearhead COVID-19 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," said 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."

With data sourced directly from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Employment Statistics (CES) and Census of Employment and Wages (CEW) programs, key findings from the study include:

  • Employees from IAAPA's constituent industries (which include amusement and theme parks, amusement 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 among the hardest hit, accounting for 70% of this drop in wages.
  • In July 2020, typically the peak month of employment for the attractions industry, employment fell by 165,000, or 35% compared with July 2019.
  • Lost positions in amusement parks and arcades were five times larger than the average loss across other industries.
  • Rather than experiencing the usual seasonal employment increase, U.S. amusement parks and arcades, historical sites, zoos and similar 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 of the pandemic on the attractions industry has been devastating. Some attractions closed and were not allowed to reopen-even with COVID-19 safety protocols in place. Some closed for several months in 2020, while others remained open but at limited capacities. Many of these businesses will never reopen again; the effects of lost revenue and business for such an extended time left an irrevocable impact.

Response by elected officials and policymakers has had a measurable effect on how regional attractions have weathered this challenging time. A comparison found that the recovery in Florida, which worked quickly to reopen facilities with safety protocols in place, is coming swifter than in states such as California, Massachusetts, Illinois and New York, which have largely kept their attractions facilities closed. Industry employment in California last summer showed a consistent drop of about 60% over the previous year through October. Florida's dip was far less dramatic, hovering near 30% after a partial reopening began in July 2020.

Futrell noted, however, that several 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."

In July 2020, IAAPA published "COVID-19 Reopening Guidance: Considerations for the Global Attractions Industry," a detailed document developed to support attractions facilities as they sought to reopen with new operating protocols and procedures in place. Developed and continually updated in partnership with attractions industry leaders from around and world and in consultation with medical professionals and health-related guidance from governmental agencies, the Guidance has continued to serve as a valuable resource, and has been shared with state and local governments to help tell the complete story of the industry's commitment and ability to safely reopen. The guidelines have also been referenced by the United Nations World Tourism Organization in its "Global Guidelines to Restart Tourism."

"COVID-19 has devastated our industry. IAAPA estimates the effects of the pandemic will have cost $23 billion in economic losses in 2020 alone," Hallenbeck said. "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, 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."

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