Photo by Keoni Cabral, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
On Dec. 18 of last year, Universal Studios Japan filmed a video of Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of “Super Mario Bros.,” showing off the latest attraction, Super Nintendo World. The tour was notable not just for the various attractions but for the distinct lack of guests anywhere in the park. The vacancy was most likely due to the park’s not having opened, but the surreal experience of watching one man wander through a sizeable tourist attraction helped many to remember just how barren amusement parks were at the time.
The COVID-19 pandemic was harsh for amusement parks. According to a report by CNBC, Disney lost about 2.4 billion dollars in revenue due to its parks closing. Comcast’s annual report on its 4th Quarter and Full Year 2020 results claims that the Universal Studios theme park lost 4 billion. With these losses, amusement park companies were understandably antsy to reopen as soon as possible, but reopening came with many problems. When Walt Disney World reopened last July, park guests were required to wear a mask almost at all times. This rule did not make an exception for eating or drinking while walking around, meaning that parkgoers were not allowed to sip from their water bottles. Keeping in mind that this was midsummer in Florida, the policy came off as though Disney was desperately trying to reopen before it was appropriate and was risking the health of park visitors as a result.
Now that the CDC has relaxed COVID-19 restrictions and amusement parks are looking for safe ways of reopening, the integration of mobile apps into a park-going experience might prove to be essential. Attractions like Disney’s “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” were already making use of smartphones for augmented-reality games, but the newfound capacity for contactless interaction with park staff also means reduced disease transmission. The previously-mentioned attraction “Super Nintendo World” is particularly fortunate in this regard because it features a special wristband that guests touch to surfaces, instead of their bare hands, to interact with park elements. The happy coincidence that existing mobile integration will assist in disease prevention is a silver lining for an industry that suffered financial losses due to the pandemic.