Cedar Fair, the parent company of Knott’s Berry Farm and Cedar Point, lost $590 million in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping several of its parks shuttered and limiting attendance across the chain. 

The company’s fourth quarter earnings call Wednesday revealed that attendance dropped 91 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. Collectively, Cedar Fair parks operated for 487 days last year compared to 2,284 days in 2019 — an 80 percent drop. 

Getting back to breakeven will be hampered by continued capacity restrictions expected in 2021, along with the chain’s only year-round park, Knott’s Berry Farm, remaining closed except for limited-capacity food festivals

“2021 will not be a normal operating year and external limitations on park operations may delay achievement of full potential until later in the year or beyond,” Cedar Fair chief financial officer Brian Witherow said. 

CEO Richard Zimmerman expressed confidence that 2021 will see a recovery for theme parks in the latter half of the year as COVID-19 vaccines become broadly available and customers flock to experiences they’ve been missing during the pandemic. 

For the moment, however, the company’s primary goal is simple: be able to fully reopen all of its properties for the 2021 season. Most of its parks are set to open in May, including a May 22 opening date for California’s Great America, announced to the public despite California’s stringent reopening standards not looking achievable by that date. 

Asked about the feasibility of the announced opening, Zimmerman said the company tried to pick dates it felt were logical based on the COVID-19 situation in each state. 

“We understand where we sit in the phase reopening of each of the economies, and we’re working cooperatively and collaboratively with all the jurisdictions and all our industry partners to make sure that we move forward as quickly as is prudent,” he said. 

Given the expectation of continued restrictions and the difficulty getting back to profitability, Zimmerman said the company will continue to limit its spending on new projects in 2021. Instead, Cedar Fair will rely on rides and attractions that were delayed last year or that guests never got to experience because certain parks never opened. 

“As we reopen parks and get back to our normal operations, we will be in a better position to make decisions on what our capital investments over the second half of 2021 will look like,” Witherow said.

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