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The Social Distancing/Mask Debate: Why Theme Parks Should Stick To Their Policies

Without question, the hottest topic of conversation in social media today surrounds masks and social distancing. Should you wear them? Should others? Does a business need to require them for customers? The debate is medical, political and moral. Literally a perfect storm to get people worked up no matter where you stand.

Theme parks are no different. Most have publicly taken a stand saying that masks are required to be worn at all times within their parks, with a handful of small exceptions such as eating, very young children or mask-free designated areas. Theme parks (so far) are an exception to how most businesses are handling the epidemic. As most businesses may recommend face masks or social distancing, very very few are requiring it. This makes theme parks an extremely hot button topic during this crazy time no matter where you stand.

What we are starting to see within places like Sea World Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa, while they may advertise they require masks at all times, they are currently choosing not to enforce it. This is incredibly disrespectful to guests visiting their parks.

Now for a moment (and I know this is difficult because people are very passionate) take your personal feelings over the mask/social distancing issue and pretend they don’t exist for just a few minutes. You may be pro or anti mask. You may think coronavirus is blown out of proportion. Naturally, you’re allowed to hold whatever opinion you like. For the purposes of this article, let’s assume you don’t hold any position at all on anything. You’re neutral. You are now the Vice President of a theme park. You’re looking to cater to over 10,000 people a day and keep them all safe and happy.

Considering that all theme parks are considering mask wearing and social distancing a safety policy, so will we. While perhaps a subconscious thought, families go to theme parks because they are safe. This is no accident. Policies put into place, whether you (the reader) personally agree with them or not, help keep millions of guests safe every day.

So let’s take a few and see if they hold up. I promise you, with every one of these examples, someone out there thinks they are ridiculous. The good news? It’s not for the public to decide on if they like a theme park’s safety policies. Let’s see how ridiculous (or maybe not?) some of these may sound if a park decided to just casually ignore their own safety protocols when they see fit.

Height Requirements

Photo: DisneyDining.com

If you’ve ever worked a theme park ride with a height requirement, this will hit home. Let’s say you’re the greeter at roller coaster X at a theme park. Just like any other day, someone comes up to you with a child who doesn’t meet the height requirement.

Literally ANY person who has worked in this position will tell you parents will scream, beg and plead for you to let their child on the ride. Even if they are just one inch shy of the posted height requirement for coaster X. I’ve even seen parents offer cash bribes to theme park workers to let their children ride who aren’t tall enough.

Will this child who is one inch below the height requirement fall out of the ride and perish? Highly unlikely. Yet, even if the possibility is a 0.001% chance, on behalf of the guests who could potentially get injured, you enforce the policy for the safety of everyone involved. Even if it’s for a very small percentage of someone falling out of a ride. Picking and choosing when to enforce the rule is not ok.

Gun Policy

Thanks to 9/11, theme parks around the globe are now far more aware of gun safety within theme parks. Now, maybe you believe that guns should be allowed in a theme park? That’s fine. However, there are many many people who believe that by screening for them at the front entrance creates a safer experience for everyone.

So let’s say they decide that the first 20 people in the park a day can bring guns but then stop from there. Sure, the website and signage may say no firearms are allowed, but why enforce it? Let’s be honest, most folks who carry guns do so for their own protection and use them responsibly.

However, we have seen many times in the United States, all it takes is one bad apple. Unfortunately, this prevents everyone from being allowed to carry a firearm in any theme park. As a result, real or imaginary, it allows guests to feel safer. Even though you may only let in responsible gun owners, you enforce the policy for the safety of everyone involved. Picking and choosing when to ignore a safety policy is not ok.

Smoking

I grew up in an era where smoking was allowed in restaurants and on airplanes. Over time, there became smoking “sections” and eventually it was eliminated from dining establishments and planes entirely. Similarly, theme parks used to allow smoking in the queues for attractions when I was younger.

Now, all parks have designated smoking areas. Some operators, like Disney, will only let you smoke outside the gates. This has become the norm for not only theme parks, but nearly all businesses on the planet. While it’s not perfectly policed, it is common for theme park employees to enforce this rule since it is easy to smell from a distance.

As a society, we’ve learned to recognize that there are serious consequences to inhaling second-hand smoke. Some folks with upper respiratory issues can have some serious medical side effects. Plus, it’s not something that many guests should have to smell. Regardless you enforce the policy for the safety of everyone involved. Even though the odds of it affecting someone to the point of hospitalization are slim, you do it for the comfort and safety of everyone who visits.

Face Coverings/Social Distancing

Now we live in a time where (even if temporarily) face coverings and social distancing are being recommended by the CDC. You may not personally agree with it. You may also want to bring your 38-inch child on Big Thunder Mountain while smoking a cigarette and carrying a firearm. Unfortunately, you don’t get to decide which theme park safety rules you can abide by and which ones you choose to ignore.

Imagine being a theme park. Would you let some firearms through and not others? How about some smokers who really need their fix? What about letting a few kids on a ride that were just a smidge below the height requirement?

Now I know many theme park operators from directors to ride operators read Theme Park University. You and/or your board of directors may think that masks are unnecessary or an inconvenience. Like it or not, we are at a point in time where many guests feel that they are necessary in order to properly get back to some sense of normal in society. In addition, you’ve decided to set an expectation by advertising that face coverings and social distancing are required all day at your park.

It’s time to pick a lane. If you decide to “recommend” versus “require” a facial covering? You’ll get far more support from the public. You may even get a boost in sales from those who want to go without them and also ignore social distancing.

Let’s say a family books a trip to Central Florida to visit Sea World Orlando because they require masks and thus that makes them feel safe. Yet, you choose not to enforce that policy in the same way that you handle smoking, firearms and height requirements.

You are not only hurting your own business, but the entire theme park and attractions industry. You enforce the policy for the safety of everyone involved. Even if you don’t fully believe in it. Even if you think it’s an inconvenience. If not? Change your policy to accurately reflect what you can reasonably enforce. No matter what you do: pick a lane and stay in it for the sake of the entire industry.

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