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COVID-19 is UAE amusement parks’ worst enemy. How are they co-existing?

Social distancing and mask-wearing while at an amusement park are the definition of an oxymoron. Yet, it's happening thanks to digital transformation. But new research on masks is revealing disturbing info on how the virus spreads

The UAE has the world’s fastest-growing amusement park market through 2023, with spending topping $609 million by 2023 On Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari World, Warner Bros. World, and Yas Waterworld are welcoming visitors at 30% capacity A study reported a link between low humidity and community spread of COVID-19

Today, many of UAE’s theme parks and public spaces are open but with restrictions in place.

Social distancing and mask-wearing while at an amusement park are the definition of an oxymoron. It contradicts with the idea of fantasy worlds and letting go in a safe and secure environment that amusement parks promise.

What happens to queues at the front gates and lines for ticketed entries to rides? When the staff wears masks and guests have their temperature checked, this reflects a state of alert.   

Yet digital transformation is helping support social distancing at Amusement Parks.

Mobile ticketing, digital payments, virtual parks

The UAE is boosting the Middle East and Africa as the world’s fastest-growing amusement park market through 2023, with spending topping $609 million by 2023 from $266 mn in 2018, according to a recent report by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).

Also according to the IAAPA, 1.2 billion guests streamed through the turnstiles at theme parks in 2019 generating $52.1 billion of spending.

Already, most of the UAE’s amusement parks have re-opened or plan to re-open in September, with reduced operating capacity and strict safety for staff and guests.

Now reopened to guests across the UAE, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Warner Bros. World™ Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld, and CLYMB™ Abu Dhabi have all received the COVID-19 compliance certificate from TÜV SÜD, one of the leading testing and certification bodies in the world.  

Dubai Parks and Resorts and IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai have health and safety features such as thermal cameras, social distancing, and rides sanitization. On Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari World, Warner Bros. World, and Yas Waterworld are welcoming visitors at 30% capacity.

Online, mobile, and cloud-based services are seeing strong take-up. Guests at many theme parks can use mobile apps for ticketing, concessions, gift shop purchases, and digital payments to reduce in-person interactions and cash transactions.

Some futurists are also predicting a rise in virtual amusement parks, which can provide an immersive virtual reality experience for guests who cannot visit in-person.

Read: The UAE is serious about personal protective equipment

COVID-19 to impact revenues

Interest in theme parks has grown in excess of 30% over the last five years across the GCC. 

UAE theme parks and water parks are expected to draw 19 million visitors by 2020.   

But with capacity restrictions and fears of infection, revenues are bound to be impacted. Approximately 55-60% of theme and amusement park revenue is generated from ticket sales,” according to IAAPA’s 2019 Global Theme and Amusement Park Outlook report. 

Between 25% and 30% is “generated from food, merchandise, and other spending by patrons at the parks. Some 10-20% of their revenue comes from licensing, sponsorships, fees from hosting special events, and other activities. 

Read: How COVID-19 made us health, environment, and cost-conscious

Masks: new surprising and disturbing facts 

According to Forbes, 3 new scientific studies recently published show that the COVID-19 virus can spread in more ways than we once knew. Research considered 3 separate factors in each study: low humidity, public restrooms, and airborne dust. 

Low Humidity

A study reported a link between low humidity and community spread of COVID-19.  Scientists estimated that for a 1% decrease in relative humidity, COVID-19 cases increase by 7% to 8%. The same link was not found in other weather patterns such as rainfall, temperature or wind.

Dry air favors the spread of the virus because when the humidity is lower, the air is drier and it makes the aerosols smaller and when sneezing and coughing, those smaller infectious aerosols can stay suspended in the air for longer and increase exposure for other people. 

Public Restrooms

A second reported that flushing a public restroom toilet or urinal can release clouds of virus-laden aerosols that can be inhaled, posing a serious public health challenge. 

The trajectory of the particles ejected from flushing showed that more than 57% of the particles traveled away from the urinal. When men use urinals in a public restroom, these tiny particles can reach thighs within 5.5 seconds when compared to the toilet flush, which takes 35 seconds to reach slightly higher.  

Airborne Dust

Influenza viruses can spread through the air on dust, fibers, and other microscopic particles. Until now, scientists assumed airborne transmission occurred mainly due to respiratory droplets by coughing, sneezing, or talking. Wrong.

Microscopic fibers from an inanimate object could carry infectious viruses. Dry and infected facial tissues when crumpled release up to 900 particles per second in a size range that could be inhaled.