Okay, this isn't actually a true headline. But all the talk about certain parks and chains suffering and perhaps even in danger of bankruptcy has gotten me thinking: what if there were another Depression? It's not impossible that we're heading for one, so it's not entirely an academic question.
If the first Depression is any sort of guide, it's a good guess that many -- maybe even most -- parks would fold. But which ones? Which ones have the right combination of factors to survive, and what are those factors?
Here's my take. Smaller parks would largely do better than bigger parks. Those places with a smaller set of attractions to maintain and infrastructure to support would stand a better chance of eking it out than big parks with behemoth, costly rides.
Also, parks that are close to significantly sized cities would survive over parks that are distant from population centers. A much smaller percentage of Americans will be able to afford cars or the gasoline to move them. So parks like Waldameer (in Erie) and Seabreeze (in Rochester) would outperform the likes of Idlewild (30 miles outside of Pittsburgh) or Indiana Beach (a long way from anywhere).
It also begs the question, what about civil unrest? Would parks that are in large metro areas, like SFMM or any of the Orlando parks, be more subject to strife and looting than parks in or near smaller communities?
I think if there is a bona fide depression though, it'll play out very differently. Those who are well to do today are not going to starve. Economist have been talking for a long time about the dissolving of the middle class, so those folks are going to swing to the wealthy or the poor. If that's the case, I think there will still be people willing to spend on the higher end.
But you do bring up a good question about what happens when the divide gets huge. The optimist in me says that philanthropy becomes a bigger focus for a lot of people, and that the recovery will be faster from sheer will to do so. There is little doubt in my mind that the "new energy economy" is real, and the drive to be first to market with cost effective solutions will make a ton of money. With a new economy comes new kinds of jobs and industries.
There's an amazing opportunity in front of us, and I'm anxious to see how it plays out. I think amusement parks would have to do a number of really stupid things to crash and burn.
I think that new energy/green energy will ultimately prove to be for this recession what World War II was for the Depression -- as long as Democrats can keep the Republicans from scrubbing every last piece of funding for it from legislation. Yes, I think the government does have a role in pushing these technologies forward. If we left it up to private industry, we'd barely make any progress until oil hits $200/barrel (don't anybody worry -- it will, the oil crisis is merely sleeping right now), and that would be too late.
Ultimately, as long as the U.S. and global economies can pull out of this tailspin before it devolves into full-blown depression, I think this recession will prove to be the best thing that could have happened. It will have given us the breathing room to deploy these kinds of technologies in time to make a difference while we still could.
One of my concerns about the park industry is that it's already been undergoing a prolonged period of contraction, with far more existing parks closing than new ones opening (or at least opening and staying that way for more than one season). If that's been the trend even in good times during the last decade +, how much more will that accelerate when the sheiss hits the fan?
Assuming what we have is a serious "market correction" followed by a period of growth (a reasonable economic retrenchment) - then parks still will be in trouble. The Wii, Xbox, and the like have done more to harm parks than anything this financial mess could. X-Games, waterparks, Monster trucks. The competition is "entertainment", the summer seasons are generally shorter from longer school years....and those other things have been beating amusement parks for awhile now. If things go REALLY south, even hardcore coaster fans would find the steel useful for more important needs...
I dunno, sometimes I think the industry is too small to really nail down trends. Some parks have seen unprecedented growth, whether it be a "big corporate" park like Canada's Wonderland, or a smaller family owned park like Holiday World. There have been some miserable failures, but not without some big wins too.
Now the vendors that supply the industry, that's obviously a different story. If you compare the big IAAPA show of 2000 to the one from this past November, it was night and day in terms of the volume of ride manufacturers in particular. Also consider that the vendors targeting FEC's as a percentage, at least the way I perceive it, are way up. If I were to put all of that together, my guess is that the industry will slow down, but certainly not wither and die.
I know that the ecomony has taken a toll on so many things! I have been seeing so many mom and pop businesses going out of business. I still am so upset about losing Conneaut Lake Park and Geauga Lake all in one year! I love Cedar Point, but I loved the family feeling you got when you were at the two parks!
^well, at least you can still walk thru Conneaut. Oddly, that park may come back yet.
I don't know if the depression was that awful on amusement parks, at least not as bad as WWII and the migration to the suburbs. Sure some parks closed, but many thrived and grew. RCDB lists over 40 coasters that opened in the US between 1930 and 1940, including all the original Flying Turns. Many parks at that time had ballrooms that attracted leading bands of the day. Times were hard for many people, but amusement parks were still an inexpensive means of entertainment, especially the picnic parks where folks brought their own food.
The difference today is that parks are now destinations in themselves and people travel hours to get to one. Pricing and the pricing structure is another difference. Back then, a lot of people could come to the park with 10 or 25 cents and hang out until they spent it. If parks back then charged a POP of $1 or $2, a lot of people would have stayed away.
I wonder how low parks would be willing or able to drop prices in order to keep people coming in and remain even somewhat profitable.
There again, I think that speaks to the complexity and cost of modern rides. Even if the technology existed to build it then, there's no way a ride like Top Thrill Dragster would have survived the Depression. Parks that have lots of rides that are expensive to operate and maintain would have trouble dropping their ticket prices low enough to cover those costs. Either that or they would be forced to leave many of them SBNO for the duration. Not a very palatable proposition. Even in a depression, customers aren't going to want to be reminded of all the rides they used to be able to ride, while they're trying to have a good time.
Canada's Wonderland will definitely thrive. The park is surrounded by residences, and it's very easy to walk there.
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