Without question, the number one hot button topic for attraction operators today is: can a theme park require you to wear a mask? You can’t go on a Facebook group, message board or even have a conversation with friends without the topic of masks coming up.
Keep in mind, the purpose of this article isn’t on whether or not you should or should not wear a mask. The CDC recommends everyone wear one in public. Yet, there are plenty of people who feel it is violating their rights for a business to require patrons to wear a mask to enter their premises. At theme parks and attractions, we have seen all kinds of reactions to how they are handling this issue.
Universal Orlando, which reopens June 5, will require guests to wear masks when they resume daily operations. In addition, they will be implementing temperature checks and enforcing social distancing. Not only are guests required to cover their face, so are Team Members. This will be one of the first large-scale theme parks to open and enforce these new rules, so all eyes will be on Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure once they reopen.
Meanwhile, literally across the street from Universal Orlando, Fun Spot is taking a much more relaxed approach to the mask issue. Not only are they are they not requiring guests to wear them, they aren’t mandating that their employees wear them either.
The above video was posted to the Fun Spot Facebook Page on the day that the park reopened. Notice, only one employee and zero guests are wearing a mask. This is a choice made by Fun Spot and while they are taking a lot of heat for not requiring masks, many guests are actually applauding them for it.
What happens over the next few weeks will be extremely interesting for both Fun Spot and Universal Orlando. Will guests who are anti-mask flock to their park simply to help support what they believe is their right? Time will tell. More importantly, this still begs the legal question: is forcing guests to wear a mask at a theme park against the law?
To answer this question, we can actually reference an article we wrote several years ago called “The Great Water Park Bikini Debate“. To summarize, a woman wore a bikini to Adventure Oasis Water Park in Kansas City that employees deemed to be inappropriate. In short, the park had legal grounds to ask her to leave based on clothing.
Just like the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rules a business may post on their door, the “no mask, no service” provides a similar set of guidelines. The Constitution and First Amendment back up business owners in whatever kind of guidelines that they see fit to run their establishment.
Furthermore, the Federal Civil Rights act states that businesses must give “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the grounds of race, color, religion or natural origin.” This means that theme parks can discriminate on what you are wearing. Check out this article we ran a few years ago about Six Flags Over Georgia refusing entry to a girl showing her belly button. It happens all the time.
Now that we know that it is legal, how enforceable is this new rule? While security will remain at the entrance of all parks requiring masks and ensuring guests wear them, it will be up to the employees to actually police them to make sure they stay on.
With the summer months, if guests want to pull them down to escape heat exhaustion, how long is too long to do that? While we know guests can remove masks while eating and drinking, who’s to say a 5-year-old will obey their parents and keep theirs on all day? I suspect many parents will use a theme park as the first time their child will wear a mask in public, much less in the summer heat.
Then we go down a path of: when can you be lenient and when do you need to stick to your guns on this policy? This becomes murky. If your 5-year-old child can take theirs off, why not your 7-year-old? And if why not your 7-year-old, then what about you as a parent? Guaranteed companies who enforce mask rules will be faced with these conversations on a daily basis.
No matter where you stand on the issue, no matter if you’re waiting to return to visit the parks after all this is over, these are interesting times for attraction operators. We’ve mentioned it in an earlier article, but theme parks are unique in the world of business.
Most governments have no idea how to regulate attractions under normal circumstances and now it is even more complicated. The fact that Orange County, Florida allows Fun Spot to not require masks and yet allow Universal Orlando to have different rules is a great example of this point.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see how parks and attractions will adapt to these new circumstances, no matter what they may be. And if you happen to be near someone who says it’s illegal for a business to require a mask, show them this article.
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