Being an ardent fan of theme parks, Patrick Lai would travel to other countries just to experience thrilling rides and spell-binding attractions there.
To date, he has been to seven different theme parks around the globe, with the Universal Studios Japan in Osaka being his favourite so far.
“I enjoy being a kid again! Theme parks bring back memories to when I was younger. My dad used to take me to there when I was a kid, ” he says.
Now that he’s all grown up and married, the automotive auditor would frequently visit theme parks with his wife Tracey Ooi.
The Covid-19 pandemic, unfortunately, has taken away the thrill for the couple recently.
All theme parks in Malaysia, like other non-essential businesses, temporarily ceased operations when the country went into the movement control order (MCO) on March 18.
And under the recovery MCO phase – June 10 to Aug 31 – Malaysians are still not allowed to travel abroad. The silver lining is that interstate travel is allowed and domestic tourism businesses are now opened to locals.
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More recently, Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that theme parks will be allowed to operate beginning July 1.
The approval involved 54 theme parks and a workforce of more than 10,000 nationwide.
During a press conference, Ismail stressed that theme park operators must abide by Covid-19 standard operating procedure (SOP).
These include adhering to social distancing rules at all times and to limit visitors based on the capacity and space of the venue.
“For theme parks, the limit of visitors allowed to enter depends on the capacity and size of the theme park. Visitors also have to register with MySejahtera and undergo body temperature checks and hand sanitisation, ” he says.
Many local theme parks are implementing strict SOP to lure visitors back to their premises. Some measures include: Temperature checks at entrance points; social distancing at queue lines and rides; hand sanitisation stations; and cleaning and disinfecting rides after each ride cycle.
Theme park lovers are still cautious
While the measures are commendable, Lai doesn’t think he would be visiting a theme park anytime soon – not when Covid-19 is still a pressing concern.
He fears that he might contract the virus and transmit it to loved ones back home. That being said, Lai thinks the SOP might make theme parks a more enjoyable experience for some.
“In a way, it would be a win for some people as they don’t need to squeeze in line with others to queue for a ride, ” he says.
Like Lai, assistant principal Gayathiri Kanniapen too will be avoiding theme parks in the near future. Although she is a fan, she would rather be cautious since she is constantly around children at her workplace in a pre-school learning centre.
“I have this worry ever since the MCO started. What if I get the virus and bring it to the children? To me, it is very important to prioritise my students’ safety first.
“Now that schools have reopened, I will also try to limit going to crowded places, ” says Gayathiri, who is a fan of the arcade games at theme parks.
Raring to go amid recovery MCO
Some welcome the decision to reopen theme parks once again.
Rodney Aeria, who’s a fan of fast rides, says it’s about time parks resume operations.
“Right now it’s a good addition to all the other businesses that are opening up, especially for the travel industry, ” says the content strategist from Selangor.
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That being said, Aeria foresees some hiccups in the proposed SOP at theme parks. He thinks proper disinfection of rides will be hard, especially for rollercoasters.
“Maintaining the seats and handles of every ride will be a hard task, as well as managing queues for all rides. But I hope it can be done.
“There has to be limits to entry otherwise lines will be too long due to the seating capacity for rides that are reduced by half, ” he suggests.
School teacher Jesmine Lam, meanwhile, says she is looking forward to letting her three children – Jacob, Megan and Ellie – experience the outdoors once again.
“I was so afraid my kids would go crazy when they had to be indoors all the time during the MCO, ” the Penangite says with a laugh.
Lam reckons the theme park would be a great place for her young children to roam around. However, she stresses that theme park operators must take all the necessary precautions to keep visitors safe.
On her part, Lam makes sure her family follow strict personal hygiene. She also ensures her children wear masks when they are outside.
“At the moment, I would still prefer to go to an outdoor theme park instead of an indoor one. I would also be avoiding water theme parks for the time being, ” she says.
Boosting hygiene and safety at theme parks
Despite being given the green light to reopen, theme park operators are currently grappling with boosting public confidence to visit amid Covid-19.
Sunway Theme Parks executive director Calvin Ho assures that the themed attractions here are well-prepared to restart businesses.
“The theme park industry is a self-regulated body and has always maintained the highest safety and health standards globally.
Recognising the advise from the Health Ministry, we have incorporated many new protocols for guest and staff safety, ” he says.
The company operates Sunway Lagoon in Selangor and the Lost World Of Tambun in Perak.
Sunway Lagoon, for one, is famous for its waterparks. But that reputation is a double-edged sword in the presence of a pandemic.
This is despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) assurance that there’s no evidence to suggest the coronavirus spreads through water in pools.
Ho admits many customers have queried about the safety of pools via the company’s social media channels.
“We want to reassure our customers that Sunway Lagoon has always prided itself in maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene. There is also consistent check of our water quality including testing by an independent third-party water quality control contractor.
“We are always in constant contact with the Health Ministry should the need arise and to ensure that factual information is channelled to the public in a consistent manner, ” he explains, adding that pools are chlorinated and the water quality is consistently checked every two hours.
Sunway Lagoon recently reopened its doors on July 4, at 50% capacity to maintain social distancing. Meanwhile, Legoland Malaysia in Johor decided to push the reopening of its water park to July 10.
Legoland Malaysia Resorts divisional director C.S. Lim says the company wants to be “fully confident” in keeping everyone safe.
“We cautiously evaluated and set new protocols that will allow us to comply with the guidelines put in place by the Health Ministry, ” he says.
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Lim adds that the park’s parent company Merlin Entertainments Group has had many successful reopenings around the world such as Legoland Japan Resort, Legoland Deutschland Resort and Sea Life Shenyang.
All those reopenings saw strict and consistent adherence to health and safety SOP at the highest level.
“Guests here will see the same guidelines in place, in addition to the necessary measures as required by the Health Ministry, ” Lim says, adding that Legoland Malaysia will limit its capacity to 30% of normal operations.
The indoor treatment
Indoor theme parks are also pulling out all the stops to ensure safety amid the Covid-19 situation.
Resorts World Genting (RWG), which operates the Skytropolis Indoor Theme Park, has implemented several health measures to keep visitors and staff safe.
RWG has re-engineered its processes and developed a comprehensive safety plan in line with the government’s guidelines and global best practices.
“The protocols cover social distancing measures, enhanced cleaning and disinfection processes, as well as the deployment of service ambassadors among others, ” says RWG.
Guests are also required to scan the MySejahtera QR code to check in for contact tracing purposes. There will also be increased sanitisation of rides and kiosks with emphasis on frequent contact surfaces.
Indoor multi-activity park SuperPark Malaysia too is going all out to ensure a clean environment for guests.
SuperPark Malaysia senior marketing manager Andes S.H. Wong says visitors should brace for a “new normal” environment.
“The first major thing they would find is the capacity limit, we have reduced 70% of our capacity to ensure each guest will have the required social distancing when in the park.
“Additional precautionary measures like sanitisation will also happen throughout the day, thus the operation hours and session structure will be different to accommodate all these additional enhancement that we have put in place.
For a theme park fan like Aeria, the enhanced safety and hygiene experience is something to look out for moving forward.
“I will love to see how things go and if the theme parks here can find success for this reopening, ” he concludes.