A new year won’t end the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the theme park industry, but Cedar Fair saw some reason for optimism heading into 2021 based on its third quarter financials. 

The company reported a net loss of $136 million for the three months ending September 30 and has lost $484 million so far in 2020. However, attendance levels began to climb at the parks it was able to open during the summer and fall, hitting as high as 55 percent of 2019 levels in September. Kings Island and Cedar Point even had fall days where the parks hit their restricted capacity limits. 

“If we proved anything to ourselves in 2020, it is that no challenge is insurmountable,” said Cedar Fair CEO Richard Zimmerman. “There were times early this season when attracting more than 50 percent of historical attendance or reaching our restricted capacity seemed unlikely. Yet, we did it.”  

While six of the company’s 13 parks never opened in 2020, Cedar Fair said the reopenings were still a net positive for the company, though not to the point of being profitable. 

“In a scenario where we’re trying to maintain the properties and stay ready to open, we can only take our operating cost down to a certain level,” said Cedar Fair chief financial officer Brian Witherow. 

Among its parks that have not fully reopened is Knott’s Berry Farm, the only year-round park in the chain. While California’s stringent theme park guidelines make a full reopening unlikely in the near future, Cedar Fair has been pleased with the response to the park’s series of seasonal food festival events. A similar concept will be tried at Carowinds, which is doing a limited holiday event starting Nov. 21. 

Zimmerman hinted that the chain is preparing for another season affected by COVID-19, calling 2020 a valuable experience “to help us improve our operating plans for next season.” He even said the state of Ohio contacted the company on how to manage lines at the polls in the 2020 presidential election. 

The hope for 2021, Zimmerman said, is to get every one of Cedar Fair’s 13 parks open and hopefully see better attendance. 

“While my crystal ball is very cloudy on vaccines ,therapeutics and other things, I do think the further out you look, the more comfortable consumers are with saying that they want to come back and that they think they’ll come back,” he said.

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