Theme parks slash hours as pandemic bites

 

SOME of Queensland's biggest theme parks have slashed their opening hours as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc with the tourism industry.

Uncertainty over travel and sudden border closures have taken their toll on interstate and long-distance tourism with visitor numbers for some of our biggest tourist destinations plummeting in the past 12 months.

With the summer holiday peak season now passed, Gold Coast tourism icons Wet'n'Wild, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and WhiteWater World have decided to shut the gates several days a week while Aussie World on the Sunshine Coast has also reduced trade to five days a week.

The changes come just over a month out from the planned end of the JobKeeper program amid predictions the move could send up to a quarter of Queensland's 40,000 tourism businesses broke.

Gold Coast water parks have previously closed for periods in the dead of winter, but closures at the height of summer are unheard of.

Both Village Roadshow, which operates four Gold Coast theme parks, and Ardent Leisure - operators of Dreamworld and WhiteWater World, received multimillion-dollar loans from the State government last year after being duped at the 11th hour by the Feds.

WhiteWater World, the sister park of Dreamworld, has reverted to opening Friday to Sunday until the Easter holidays, while Wet'n'Wild (Thursday to Sunday) and Currumbin Sanctuary (Thursday to Monday) also reduced opening days.

WhiteWater World will remain empty four days a week until the Easter holidays. Picture: Jerad Williams.
WhiteWater World will remain empty four days a week until the Easter holidays. Picture: Jerad Williams.

There are no plans for changes to annual passes as holders are still able to visit other theme parks where trading hours have not been reduced.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind said the moves showed that a return to business as normal was still a long way off.

"It's just an illustration of how much businesses big and small are struggling right now," he said.

"The uncertainty around travelling and tourism has forced businesses to have a long look at how they do business now."

Queensland Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said operators needed some hope from the Federal government.

"Theme parks show once again why the Federal Government can't cut JobKeeper without targeted assistance to tourism operators while overseas visitors are locked out and international travel is in turmoil," he said.

"The Federal Government risks turning the end of JobKeeper into a jobs killer."

 

Currumbin Sanctuary CEO Michael Kelly said the move would help the park remain viable.

"By consolidating our operating days into a 5-day a week operation, we are still able to deliver the high level of service expected by our guests, while ensuring that we reduce our operating costs to help financially protect our important community asset into the future," he said.

Dreamworld chief operating officer Greg Yong  said the decision followed an operational review across the business as a result of the pandemic.

Dreamworld COO Greg Yong. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Steve Holland
Dreamworld COO Greg Yong. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Steve Holland

"The warmer months typically record higher visitation in the water park," he said.

A spokesman for Village Roadshow theme parks, which operates Wet'n'Wild, said the change was 'to align with visitation trends' outside peak periods.

"We are constantly monitoring our operations and guest feedback," a spokesman said.

Since reopening following the COVID shutdown, Aussie World has often operated just five days a week outside the peak holiday period.

A park spokeswoman said Aussie World had experienced a solid summer holiday period before reverting to five days a week.

"We are grateful that we received the JobKeeper subsidy to help us reopen back in July (after the COVID-19 closure)," she said.

 

Originally published as Theme parks slash hours as pandemic bites



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