Amusement and theme parks plead to reopen

It’s been over a year since amusement and theme parks first had to close their gates in the fight against the coronavirus. Despite being allowed to open for a short time with restrictions during the last summer, the entertainment and culture sectors have now been closed again since December 15, 2020.

The directors of the Dolfinarium in Harderwij, the Efteling in Kaatsheuvel and the Keukenhof in Lisse are facing massive challenges and desperately need some perspective, they said to NOS.

The Efetling attracted more than five million visitors annually before the pandemic. Its director, Fons Jurgens, said that amusement parks should be allowed to welcome guests again. “It is not possible to keep people inside any longer, and on our grounds, it is safer than in crowded parks. Our fairy tale forest is the safest forest in the Netherlands.”

By limiting the number of people in the parks, face masks and “kilometers of fencing”, Jurgens believes visitor safety can be ensured.

In 2010, the Efteling made a promise to stay open 365 days a year. The pandemic forced the amusement park to reconsider its goal. “We could have stayed open but to guarantee the safety of our employees, we decided to close”, Jurgens said. The director claimed to be prepared for all scenarios of reopening in the pandemic, including a vaccination pass.

He estimates that the upcoming years will continue to pose financial difficulties.

General manager of the Dolfinarium, Alex Tiebot, said that for them it has not been any easier. “Especially because of the uncertainty surrounding the virus. We did not know if it could also be dangerous for the animals.”

Caring for animals requires a lot of funding. The park buys 200 thousand euros worth of fish annually. “Walruses do not eat one less fish”, Tiebot says.

Last May the Dolfinarium opened again briefly with restrictions. “According to protocol, we were allowed to let four thousand people inside but we chose to lower the limit to three thousand. When a sea lion jumps on stage, people tend to gather close to watch. Then, it can get crowded.”

Tiebot hopes to be able to reopen in April but is worried that indoor areas will have to stay closed. “We need to ask ourselves if we would then still have enough to offer the visitors.”

The Keukenhof in Lisse was counting on this year to make up for the losses of 2020. “We were just about to open last year and had to send hundreds of people home when the pandemic hit. It cost us millions in revenue”, director Bart Siemerink says.

Unlike other attraction sites, the tulip park was not able to make any profit in the summer months because the flowers had already finished blooming.

The same tragedy that occurred last year is threatening to repeat itself. The bulbs were already planted last fall and are beginning to bloom now. Yet, no one is there to see it. “I look at a park full of flowers and no one is allowed to walk through, it is emotional for everyone”, Siemerink says. The director hopes to be able to reopen before the tulip season ends in early May.

For now, the alternative of a virtual tour remains, but it is not quite the same. “You just don’t smell the flowers and don’t hear the birds chirping. And we don’t make the money.”