Dec 29

Close Calls

Nobody hates to close Busch Gardens more than we do. Trust me. It’s the job of the Marketing team to generate attendance, and we can do that only when the doors are open.

So why do we decide to close the park on scheduled operating days? Why do we temporarily close on busy days? And why can’t we easily add days to the schedule? This week’s big snowstorm is causing us to deal with all these questions.

The answer to the first question is easy: safety. It’s our No. 1 priority, for our guests and our employees. As much as we would love to see a park filled with happy visitors buying tickets, food and gifts, we would never put anyone at risk to do so.

Over the past three days our in-park teams have worked tirelessly in the hopes of having the park ready to re-open Christmas Town, but ultimately had to make the difficult decision that it still was not safe for an outdoor event of this nature. Imagine the massive job of clearing ice and snow from 350 acres of walkways, parking lots, ride areas, outdoor restaurants and stages, train tracks and service roads.

We know this is a terrible inconvenience for many people who had plans to visit Christmas Town these past few nights, and it’s especially disappointing for out-of-town visitors who may not be able to stay later in the week. Christmas Town is definitely an experience worth seeing, and if you aren’t able to visit this year we hope you will give us another chance next year.

For those who do plan to visit us over the next three nights, let’s address the second question: Why do we temporarily close the park for capacity reasons – and how can you know when we hit that point? The answer to this one also starts with safety as the primary concern, along with ensuring a satisfying experience for everyone.

You might think that more people in the park equals more money in our pockets, but that’s not true if pathways and buildings are too crowded for safe movement. With 35 years of experience to draw on, our Operations team carefully monitors guest arrival times, movement through the park, ride and facility capacities, show schedules, guest exits and a variety of other factors to assess the in-park capacity on any given day. Because of the stunning lights and decorations throughout the park for Christmas Town, guests tend to spend more time on pathways than during a typical day, so that is taken into account.

When we do hit the trigger point for capacity, we must prevent more guests from entering the park until a sufficient number have left for the night. We can’t predict how long that will be, but in most cases we are able to re-open and allow guests to enter for the remainder of the evening. As soon as we make the decision to suspend entry, we post notices on our website –– as well as our Facebook and Twitter sites, and we update our telephone information line at (800) 343-7946.

If you plan to visit on the three final days of Christmas Town, I recommend checking these sources before leaving home, and if possible, having our Facebook or Twitter feeds sent directly to your mobile telephone. The other best advice is simply to arrive early. Although the Christmas Town lights are best seen in the dark, there’s plenty to do before nightfall and then you can enjoy the lights after the sun sets.

Finally, a number of our Facebook friends and others have suggested we extend Christmas Town – by anywhere from one day to two weeks. On the surface this seems logical: many people will be off work this weekend, the weather is supposed to improve and all of the “stuff” is already here – all we have to do is open the doors. Unfortunately it is not that simple. We gave this idea quite a bit of consideration, but decided to end Christmas Town as scheduled on Friday, closing with a special fireworks extravaganza at 10 p.m.

Obviously there’s the potential benefit to us to make up for significant business lost during the three days we have been closed. But there are a number of contractual and logistical issues that outweigh the benefits. A number of our employees, especially performers and other specialists, have other obligations immediately after their scheduled end date. In addition, there is a tight schedule for dismantling Christmas Town, performing off-season maintenance and completing construction of our new M├Ąch Tower ride and Oktoberfest village enhancements. Even a couple of days’ delay can have an impact on this work.

Add to all of this the fact that Dec. 31 also marks the end of the year. Extending employment terms, rights fees, sales agreements, insurance provisions, tax requirements and other obligations into a new year opens a host of issues. If we were talking about a day or two in September, it might not be such a big deal.

As we often say, if we could control the weather we would all be billionaires – and undoubtedly keep from frustrating so many of our guests. It’s the most maddening part of our business: the natural landscape and outdoor expanses that help make us the World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park also mean we are highly dependent on good weather. Whether it’s blistering heat in summer or a foot of snow in winter, we work hard to ensure a safe, comfortable environment for our guests, even if that means once in a while having to turn business away.

We wish you a Happy New Year and look forward to seeing you for more fun and new thrills in 2011.