Comcast CEO Brian Roberts expressed hopes that the theme park business will rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, calling its Universal parks the “main part of COVID that we have not been able to completely get fixed yet.”
In a Q & A session during the virtual Goldman Sachs Investor Conference, Roberts called the division the “fastest-growing” in the company over the past decade. Since its Orlando and Japan parks reopened in June, however, Roberts said earnings are “not back to where we thought it would be at this point” and attendance is around 25 percent of normal levels.
He acknowledged that some guests may not return until there is a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I think it’s very possible that, for many people, they’re going to wait until we have a vaccine, and that’s okay,” Roberts said. “I mean, that’s a personal choice. For other people, the answer is they want to be at the theme parks sooner than that and they’re comfortable. I think we’ve given them a reason to be comfortable as we put in, we think, the best possible protocols and safety that the experts locally have advised.”
Roberts said guest feedback has been positive from those who have returned to the parks since reopening.
Despite the impact on earnings, Roberts said he was optimistic for the parks’ long-term future, though he cautioned that further investment in them will have to wait for the pandemic to ease.
“At the right time, we can invest in theme parks, but not now, and so we’ve slowed down some investments in theme parks,” he said. “I hope they’ll come back and want them to come back.”
Universal has continued construction on its still-unannounced Jurassic Park coaster, but paused all work on the planned Epic Universe theme park. The resort has cut costs elsewhere by undergoing three rounds of layoffs, temporarily closing six attractions in its two parks, and shuttering the Volcano Bay water park two days per week.
SeaWorld reveals extent of layoffs
A notice filed with the state of Florida shows that SeaWorld Orlando permanently laid off 1,896 furloughed workers earlier this month.
SeaWorld Entertainment furloughed more than 90 percent of its workforce soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began. Its executives took pay cuts but were also rewarded with $6.8 million in stock awards. On Sept. 4, it notified government officials that workers who had not been recalled from furlough would permanently lose their jobs, citing travel restrictions and Florida’s summer surge in COVID-19 cases.
“Due to the evolving nature of COVID-19 and its effects on our business, it is difficult to predict when business will return to pre-COVID-19 levels; however, in the current operating environment, it now appears reasonably foreseeable that the temporary actions taken earlier will extend beyond six months for the Florida operations,” SeaWorld Orlando park president Kyle Miller wrote in his letter to the state.
The layoffs included jobs at all three SeaWorld properties in Orlando (SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica Orlando and Discovery Cove). The most-affected job categories were food service attendants (455 people lost their jobs) and park operations hosts or hostesses (272 people laid off).
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