Capital Region

Kennedy: Pandemic impact on Great Escape, parent company extensive

The Great Escape in 2019. Credit: Erica Miller

The Great Escape in 2019. Credit: Erica Miller

Categories: Business, News

Six Flags Entertainment Corp., the Texas-based theme park operator whose holdings include The Great Escape in Queensbury, has had a coronavirus pandemic experience seen by few businesses.

In March, as much of the economy ground to a halt to curb the spread of COVID-19, Six Flags shut its 26 parks. They stayed closed until early summer, when some began to reopen under strict safety protocols and attendance limits set by states and localities.

For the April-to-June second quarter – in the heart of the shutdown – revenue at Six Flags was down a whopping 96 percent compared to the 2019 quarter, the company reported in July.

“This crisis has affected our business profoundly in the short term,” CEO Michael Spanos said on the company’s second-quarter conference call.

By mid-summer, 14 parks were open in eight states and Canada, with “solid demand” seen initially, Spanos said. As upticks in COVID-19 infections occur, though, demand slackens, he added, making it “very difficult” to forecast future demand trends.

Nevertheless, Spanos expects daily attendance to be just 25 percent to 30 percent of prior year levels “for the foreseeable future.”

In New York, though, attendance is easy to predict: zero.

That’s because, under the state’s phased reopening after the March shutdown, amusement parks have yet to receive a green light to resume operations. For Six Flags’ theme and waterparks at Darien Lake near Buffalo and at the Great Escape, that meant missing the all-important summer revenue season.

Darien Lake’s campground and the lodge/hotel across Route 9 from the Great Escape were allowed to reopen in late June, however, although use of the hotel’s indoor waterpark is limited.

But there will be no fall Octoberfest or Halloween-themed Fright Fest at the Great Escape this year, spokesman Jason Lee told The Chronicle in Glens Falls. Lee told me this week that the park will not reopen before 2021.

The park provides 1,500 seasonal jobs, 125 full-time jobs, and “significant” sales and occupancy tax revenue, Lee said in an email.

He indicated technology upgrades introduced by Six Flags at reopened parks, both in response to the coronavirus and to make the guest experience “more seamless,” will be seen at the Great Escape, too.

That includes an online reservation system, which can stagger entry times, and contactless temperature and security screening at entry. (Spanos said on the conference call that the reservation system was a “big component” in getting states and localities comfortable with capacity at reopened parks. Guests also “love what we have done.”)

Lee said mobile dining also will be introduced at the Great Escape using the Six Flags app that allows guests to order a meal ahead of time.

“The safety of our guests and team members is always our No. 1 priority, and these new measures allow us to operate more efficiently and create a safe environment for everyone,” he said.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

Leave a Reply