The global theme park closure has been a massive financial hit to companies like Disney and Universal. Without that regular flow of guests, millions of dollars a day are being lost. This not only has an impact on the industry today, but it has the potential to have lasting consequences, as the lack of income potentially means no money is available for future attractions or expansions. The biggest new theme park expansion on the horizon is Universal Studios Orlando's Epic Universe, an entirely new theme park, and it now appears that park may remain on the horizon for some time.
Universal's parent company, Comcast, had already announced that construction on the new park had been shutdown, which would clearly result in a delay in the park's opening. Now, however, it seems that the Epic Universe will be delayed far more than a few months of stopped construction as Comcast Chief Financial Officer Mike Cavanagh recently stated during the J.P. Morgan Investor Conference (via the Orlando Sentinel) that construction of the park will resume not when the situation with coronavirus improves, but when the economy as a whole improves. According to Cavenaugh...
All things considered, it’s a big capital swing, so better to really march forward with that when we have just a bit more visibility on what’s going on with the economy post-COVID. I can’t tell you when that’s going to be when we revisit it.
The entire world has taken an economic hit due to the fact that consumers are largely unwilling, if not entirely unable, to spend money like they once did. Analysts have a range of predictions as to how long a global recession could last, but if the plan is really for Epic Universe to hold off on resuming construction until the economy improves it means we could be looking at a delay of not weeks or months, but potentially, years.
With a delay like that, one has to wonder if there is the potential that the entire Epic Universe project could be scrapped, but the CFO assured people that the company is confident in the project and that it will go forward, there's just no timetable as to when.
Originally, Epic Universe was expected to open in 2023. The construction delay could have potentially pushed that into 2024, but now the door is open for the park being five years away or more.
Construction was in an early enough phase that the delay shouldn't actually cost Universal anything, so the company can afford to just sit and wait. And certainly, that decision makes a lot of sense under the circumstances. Because of the economic slow down, analysts predict the theme park industry will be suffering for years following this outbreak. People will potentially lack confidence in crowded places like theme parks, and may also lack the funds to afford expensive theme park vacations.
The purpose of a new theme park like Epic Universe is to get the guests planning vacations to extend their trip. Another theme park requires another day of vacation, which in turn means more money spent on hotels, food, and merchandise. If there's a fear that the guests may not be willing or able to spend the money on the existing vacation options, there's not much point in spending the money to open an additional park.
Thus far, the only confirmed aspect of the park is a land dedicated to Nintendo characters called Super Nintendo Land. Most of the rest of what the new park will contain has been rumored, but one certainly has to wonder how a long delay might change the park. Ideas for lands and attractions that might be cutting edge now could feel dated if the park is delayed by years. Maybe we'll still be getting Epic Universe down the road, but that doesn't mean we'll be getting the same park we were expecting when it actually happens.