What we are doing to prepare for reopening
- Wednesday May 27th 2020
This week, the country is preparing to enter the very significant next step in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter ‘Stage 2’ of the Government response, that will see some schools and non-essential businesses start to reopen, we are watching these first steps back to normality closely and in the hope that all goes well. Like many other businesses, we chose to support the Government efforts to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by closing the Resort ahead of the lockdown. We have now been closed for more than 10 weeks except for a very small team who have continued to perform essential work and care for the animals we have on site. As the situation improves and Government advice changes, we hope to be able to confirm our reopening date soon, and there is much that we are already doing to prepare for that day.
For a few weeks now, the management team at Alton Towers has been reviewing our entire operation and planning the changes that we need to make so that when we do reopen we can do so in a way that keeps our guests and our employees safe, and ensures that we can deliver a great day out. The whole point of Alton Towers, our very reason for being, is to provide a place where families and friends can share amazing experiences. In the era of COVID-19, there is no doubt the guest experience will be different. But what we do have is lots and lots of space, a culture that has safety at its very core and a team this is absolutely obsessed with delivering fantastic experiences for our guests.
The other advantage we have at Alton Towers is that, as part of Merlin Entertainments, we are part of a global team and can draw on the experience of colleagues across the world. As the spread of coronavirus has not been uniform across nations, there are already attractions within the Merlin group that have reopened in Asia, New Zealand and now Germany. The Merlin Health and Safety Team were quick to compile a set of reopening guidelines that identify key measures to be introduced at all attractions, albeit with some variation based on the advice of different national Governments and health bodies.
As myself and the other managers at Alton Towers began to think about how these measures apply to our own rides and attractions, we are fortunate to be able to learn from the experience of our colleagues in attractions that are already open, and make sure that we implement the changes in a way that works best for our guests and for our employees.
After being at home for so long, we know that many people will understandably have questions and concerns about venturing out with their families, and we have a very important job to do in communicating our plans to help build confidence among our guests. Whilst the details may evolve and change, here are some of the key changes that guests might see when Alton Towers Resort reopens:
Restricted numbers and advance booking
Our phased reopening will see strict limits on the initial number of guests who can visit the Resort each day, and also for individual attractions and facilities within the resort. This is so that we can best maintain social distancing in all areas of the Resort, whilst making sure that our guests can enjoy the same number of rides and attractions as they would normally expect to. In order to stick to these limits, we are considering a system of online booking, similar to our Fireworks events, in which we would ask all guests to book their trips in advance to guarantee entry. We are still working through precisely how this will work, and our approach may evolve in line with Government guidance, so please bear with us. We will post all further updates on our website and social media channels.
Temperature Checks and Health Monitoring
As our primary focus is to minimise the risk of exposing guests and employees to coronavirus, we will be asking all our staff and guests to monitor their own health and not travel to the resort if they feel unwell, have a temperature or a cough. We will also be conducting temperature checks on all employees and guests arriving at the Resort. Whilst we never want to turn anyone away, unfortunately if someone arrives at the Resort with a high temperature they will not be allowed to enter. In this event we will gladly rebook your visit when convenient and at no additional cost; we do not expect anyone to be penalised for doing the right thing. As always, our focus is on prevention rather than the cure, so we hope and expect that our employees and guests will behave responsibly and not travel to the Resort if the feel unwell
Social distancing at the Resort
On a site the size of ours there is plenty of space for everyone. We know that many of our guests come in household groups, and we want people to be able to enjoy family time together whilst staying apart from other groups of guests. However, we know there are ‘pinch points’ around the park where groups of people tend to gather and that is where we’re focussing our attention. We’re installing spatial markers in these spots, including the admissions plaza and all queue lines for rides and attractions, food and retail outlets. The same approach will be applied in communal areas at our Resort accommodation, and in communal facilities like toilet blocks. We have all become accustomed to waiting in line at the supermarket and navigating the one-way system around the aisles without getting too close to other shoppers, so hopefully this aspect of a trip to Alton Towers will not present too many surprises for guests. Our team will also be on hand to make sure that other guests are keeping a safe distance.
On the rides themselves, we are planning that guests will be batched in family groups with empty seats or rows between different groups to ensure a safe distance. We’re also planning to limit the number of guests who can attend each of our shows to maintain social distancing. And whilst we hope that by limiting guest numbers we will still be able operate the vast majority of our attractions, we are monitoring this and our approach may evolve in line with further Government guidance. More information about specific attractions will be posted on our website prior to opening.
We all know by now that washing our hands regularly and thoroughly is the best possible protection from the virus. Hand washing advice will be part of the COVID-19 training that our employees will need to complete before we reopen, and we would also encourage our guests to wash their hands regularly during their trip. We’re installing dozens of hand sanitiser dispensers around the resort, including at the entry and exit points for most rides and attractions. Our teams will also wipe down any surface that is frequently touched at regular intervals through-out the day, with communal areas (like toilet facilities) being deep cleaned every night.
Our teams on the theme park will be issued with protective clothing, including face masks and gloves, to keep themselves and our guests safe. As the current Government guidance is only advising face masks for indoor spaces, our thinking at present is that we will leave it up to guests to decide if they want to wear masks, but they are welcome to do so if they please. Our merchandise teams are even working on some new Alton branded masks if guests want to buy them while they’re here! As regular visitors to Scarefest will know, this is a change from our normal policy on face coverings so we would please ask that if you do wear a mask that your eyes, at least, are visible. We’re reviewing all our processes to try to minimise close contact between employees and guests, and we will ensure that where that is unavoidable, for example checking ride harnesses, our teams have the necessary protective equipment to keep themselves and guests protected.
As with any Health and Safety initiative, success absolutely relies on our teams and their understanding of how to keep themselves and our guests safe. Safety is absolutely engrained in our working culture, and safety routines form part of the vast majority of roles on the Resort. Along with colleagues at Merlin, we have developed new ‘COVID-19’ training for our employees that each and every one of them will have to complete before the Resort reopens. After all, a trip to Alton Towers is somewhere to escape and leave your worries behind. All of our team take this responsibility very seriously and we want to make sure that our guests feel confident when they return that we have done everything possible to minimise any risks associated with their visit.
My final message to our guests would be this: after the extended lockdown, we will all need some leisure, escapism and fun. We are supporting you, our employees and the Government response to COVID-19, by staying closed until the Government says it is safe to reopen. Once it is safe to reopen, we ask you to please support us in the simple steps of respecting each other when you visit; in terms of giving each other sufficient space, in keeping the resort clean and most of all in washing your hands. We see these not as short-term measures, but as the ‘new normal’ way that we will operate until such time as the health risks of COVID-19 are fully addressed.
Working together, we can ensure that the new normal will be a fun normal and I look forward to seeing you all at Alton Towers Resort soon.
Health, Safety & Security Director
Please keep checking our website and social media channels for more details on our reopening plans.
To find out more about the Merlin Entertainment guidance for Protecting Guests and Employees please click here.