On March 15 of 2020, Walt Disney World closed its Florida theme parks for the longest stretch of time in company history. After nearly four months, the different Orlando parks began to reopen at limited capacity with features that allow for social distancing. Temperature screenings and face coverings are now part of the park experience.
So what elements of the theme park vacation will remain forever changed? And what will bounce back?
Firstly, I believe theme park vacations will return, because of the innate drive of human beings to go places and do things, to explore, to be inspired and entertained. The drive to experience deeply imaginative creativity is unquenchable and timeless.
We, as humans, want to have the opportunity to suspend our disbelief and be transported into completely immersive, fantastical worlds of magic and epic creation — to connect with family, friends, and even strangers in these uniquely shared experiences and make memories that last a lifetime. The opportunity to do so is special — and in my experience, it is much more than a want. It’s driven by core human needs. The forms and methods in which we experience creativity and excitement will evolve, as they always have, but the fundamental inspiration will endure.
The great Walt Disney pioneered this notion. It was further proven by many great leaders of creativity and determination. Lew Wasserman, Steven Spielberg, Michael Eisner, Ron Meyer, Bob Iger, Tom Williams, and many others leaders, all in their own way, have known this truth.
Yes, we have had disruption in a most unexpected and far-reaching way, driven by the global pandemic.
While threatening, and certainly impactful to the immediate propensity for travel and vacations, it is also a catalyst for innovation.
Innovation has always been a core part of the attractions industry. Making use of continuous change, re-imagining, rebirth, renewal, and innovation to bring stories to life is the foundation of the industry. Creativity and innovation are intrinsic and necessary.
This force for positive change will now be applied to addressing the urgent challenges at hand.
We will see evolution in the way theme parks and vacation travel providers address everything from virtual queuing, touch-less customer and guest interactions, ventilation design, sanitation technologies, guest screening, and team member connectivity. There will also be great steps taken toward real-time health awareness. That includes environmental early warning technology, new safety guidelines for travelers, and greater partnership and collaboration with institutions of public health. And I would venture to say, complimentary bottles of artfully branded hand sanitizer in many hotel rooms to accompany the other niceties. Some changes and policies will be visible, and many will be unseen.
You might even see Asher the Spaniel, one of a team of elite COVID-19 “Detector Dogs” being trained in the UK to determine if dogs can successfully sniff out the virus among people. With over 350 million sensory receptors in his nose, you might see him or one of his mates in an airport soon, or perhaps even at a theme park in the future.
With thousands of medical and research teams around the world all working on solutions for the novel coronavirus, we will find successful treatments, successful vaccines—and perhaps even greater discoveries yielding positive benefits beyond our expectations.
Imagine that: the possibility of coming out of the pandemic even stronger.
Algernon Callier serves as Head of Business Development and Chief Digital Evangelist for JIFFY.ai, a revolutionary app-based intelligent automation platform that accelerates enterprise productivity. He also serves on the Editorial Advisory Board for InnoLead. Previously, he served as Vice President for Strategic Innovation and Emerging Technology at Universal Parks & Resorts.
This piece is bonus content tied to the Fall 2020 special issue of IL’s magazine, which collects advice and insights from 25 contributors. Read the full “Innovation Matters More” magazine.