Florida’s Walt Disney World will reopen its Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom theme parks to the public this Saturday, July 11, followed by Hollywood Studios and Epcot on July 15. While reopening when the pandemic is surging in Florida is controversial, the park has plans for at least eight notable changes to the guest experience—changes that meeting professionals are smart to consider as their meetings restart.
Face coverings required: Face coverings will be required at Walt Disney World by all guests ages 2 and older as well as for “cast members.” Likewise, for meetings to begin, planners, host organizations, and attendees need to embrace masks even in some cases at indoor events when attendees are socially distanced. Mounting evidence suggests that virus lingers in indoor air.
Social Distancing Squad: Disney is making some cast members part of a “Social Distancing Squad,” designated to remind guests to practice social distancing. A lesson for planners: Social distancing signs around receptions and coffee breaks might not be enough. Members of the planning team may need to enforce the new normal; carefully consider direct but friendly language to use to remind attendees about safety protocols.
Temperature checks: Disney’s guests and employees will have mandatory temperature checks before entering any park and will be asked to check their temperatures before leaving home. However, Disney does not plan to actually test cast members for coronavirus, which led the Actors’ Equity Association that represents many of Disney’s performers to oppose the opening.
Planners need to understand that temperature screening alone is not an effective way to protect attendees or the host organization since asymptomatic individuals can still spread the virus.
Reservations required: To control capacity, WDW’s guests will need to make a reservation in advance to visit a theme park. The same will be true for some trade shows. According to a sampling of exhibition managers at a Digital Summit hosted by Lippman Connects, 73 percent are considering selling or assigning staggered entry times for exhibit halls.
Reduced capacity: In addition to cutting the number of people allowed in its parks, WDW will also manage capacity at retail stores and restaurants. For planners, reducing the number of attendees in any meeting space to ensure the recommended six feet of social-distancing space will be a challenge, especially for groups that have already booked venues using pre-pandemic space calculations. PSAV’s MeetSAFE guide for meeting professionals provides advice on physical distancing in meeting spaces as well as enhanced cleaning procedures.
Contactless interactions: Cash will be accepted, but Disney's “magic wristband," a wearable device that acts as an admission ticket, payment method, and room key, will be available to guests. Similarly, when groups start meeting again, planners and attendees may find a level of comfort with hotel brands that have touchless registration systems and allow keyless room entry, or even convention check-ins that use facial recognition.
No meet-and-greets: No more meeting Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland. Disney characters meet-and-greets, which often create a stir in the parks, are canceled for the time being. Meeting planners may also want to avoid creating crowds by, for example, skipping the typical post-keynote book signings and extending Q&A periods so that fewer attendees congregate at the front of the room after sessions. (Although the Q&A period itself may raise eyebrows if attendees aren’t comfortable with a microphone passed from person to person.)
No parades or fireworks shows: To cut down on crowds, Disney will not hold parades or its nightly fireworks shows. Planners, too, will need to rethink special events. While spacious outdoor venues could be the answer for some receptions, the final-night dance party is probably off the agenda.