Walt Disney World changed its mask rules for guests in response to new CDC guidance, marking a watershed moment for Disney parks and the theme park industry as a whole.
The Orlando, Florida-based resort announced Friday that masks and face coverings will be “optional in outdoor common areas” at Disney World beginning Saturday. Guests “must wear face coverings from the entrances at all attractions, theatres, or transportation and throughout those experiences,” according to the company.
That means you don’t have to wear a mask if you’re walking down Main Street, USA, but you must if you’re riding Space Mountain.
The announcement follows the announcement on Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 do not need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors, except in certain circumstances.
Because Disney parks are industry leaders, the revised safety requirements could have huge ramifications for Disney’s attendance numbers and the theme park industry as a whole. And as goes Disney, so usually go other amusement parks.
Universal Orlando Resort, a Disney competitor in Orlando with Harry Potter and Jurassic Park attractions, also announced Friday that it was updating its Covid safety measures. Masks, like Disney’s new requirements, are not “mandatory” while outdoors, but are “required in all indoor locations including shops and restaurants” and at all attractions.
For decades, Disney’s parks and resorts have been an important foundation of the company’s media empire. The coronavirus pandemic, on the other hand, took a particularly heavy toll on the division. Following a difficult year that included extended closures and significant layoffs, the new mask rules, as well as increased capacity, could have a significant impact on park attendance as the parks enter the crucial summer season.
In fiscal 2019, the year before the pandemic, Disney’s parks division generated more than $26 billion in sales, accounting for 37% of the company’s total revenue. Returning to those levels would benefit not only the parks division but all of Disney.
“This is the next step in their recovery,” Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com, told CNN Business before the announcement on Friday. “They’ve built a foundation at the parks that they can expand upon. I don’t think you’re really going to see the result of that expansion in 2021, but you’re going to see the beginning of it.”
According to an AECOM report, the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World is the world’s most-visited theme park, with more than 20 million visitors in 2018. The company has spent billions of dollars on its theme park division, which will open new Star Wars lands in Florida and California in 2019. This summer, it also plans to open Avengers Campus, a land-based on the popular Marvel franchise, at Disneyland.
Disneyland, California’s flagship resort, reopened last month after being closed for more than a year.
Disney (DIS) has not stated whether or not it will change mask guidance and safety measures at its other parks.