Park Briefs :: Fall 2020



The prevalence of COVID-19 in the United States coupled with international travel restrictions and local limits on group sizes were the deciding factors in canceling the in-person versions of the outdoor industry’s largest annual conferences and expos. Many events are still happening, though—online.

Switching from a robust, multi-day, in-person event with hundreds—or thousands—of attendees to an online-only event in a matter of a few months is unchartered territory. There are fewer logistics for organizers to tackle, but that doesn’t mean hosting a virtual conference is easy. The costs for going virtual are far less, of course, but so are the revenue opportunities. And the value of face-to-face interactions with experts, customers, and industry friends cannot be overstated. The Adventure Park Insider team is certainly going to miss seeing everyone this year.

As of press time, here is where three of the biggest events for aerial adventure operators stand:

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo in Orlando, Fla., traditionally includes several days of educational workshops in addition to the trade-show extravaganza. This year, the event is sans trade show, of course, but the planned educational sessions will be offered online as part of the IAAPA Expo: Virtual Education Conference, Nov. 16-18, 2020.

The educational sessions will be available live or on-demand. The schedule also includes several keynotes by industry leaders and networking opportunities.

The America Outdoors (AO) Virtual Conference and Outfitter Expo will be Dec. 1-4, 2020. After announcing the event was going virtual back in mid-August, AO was quick to assemble a full online schedule complete with virtual happy hours, networking, keynotes, and daily learning sessions. Every presenter this year is from the outdoor industry because, as AO says on its website, “They know us; they are our people.”

The Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) International Conference and Expo is scheduled to be held virtually Jan. 19-29, 2021. The theme is “Moving Forward Together…Virtually.” ACCT announced Sept. 8 that the in-person event in Spokane, Wash., was canceled. The association is reassessing the workshop proposals it received before the call for presenters deadline in May. Registration and schedule information are still being developed.


This year has been difficult for a variety of reasons—including wildfires. The 2020 wildfire season has been one for the books, with more than 4 million acres burned in California alone. Natural disasters of this scale can leave operators questioning what their insurance policies cover.

“Insurance policy wording is intricate, convoluted, and can sound like a foreign language,” says Cameron Annas of Granite Insurance. That said, most policies cover at least some fire and fire-related damage. Each policy is different, though, and you should verify any coverages with your insurance agent.

Fire and smoke damage. In the event that a business property has sustained fire or smoke damage, it’s probably covered. Fire and smoke are a basic cause of loss covered on most property policies. Most policies also cover water damage from any efforts to extinguish the fire, as well as the expense of cleaning up debris after the fact.

Business income coverage. “You should also have this property coverage supplemented with business income coverage,” says Annas. “[Business income coverage] covers less tangible losses, like the ability to run your business and generate revenue.”

Restricted access coverage. Businesses that have not sustained damage but have had access restricted by authorities due to wildfire may also have their coverage triggered under the “civil authority” clause on a property policy. This does not come without caveats, though.

“Business income coverage is fairly standard, but for it to kick in there might be parameters required, such as being within a certain distance of a damaged property,” says Annas. Many policies also require a waiting period—for example, 72 hours after the restriction was set in place—before coverage kicks in.

Extra expense coverage. To deal with incidents such as these, Annas recommends looking into “extra expense” coverage. This provides added protection for costs such as rent, payroll, relocation costs, or other reasonable expenses incurred as a result of the disaster.

What about those operations that may not be damaged or restricted, but choose to close for other reasons—such as air quality concerns? These operators are most likely not covered, Annas advises.

Every carrier is different, and every policy is unique. To be certain about what a policy covers, Annas encourages operators to reach out to their agent well in advance of needing to take advantage of it. “The last thing you want to do [during or following a disaster]is try and dig through policy language to make sense of it all,” he says.


While pay-to-play adventure parks have done better than expected, at least in non-quarantined locations (see “Summer 2020: What We’ve Learned,” p. 40), the same cannot be said for many experiential programs and overnight camps. Discussions with sources in these two sectors confirmed that many programs chose not to operate this summer. Others operated with limits on group size. And, as with commercial parks, a few enjoyed record seasons.

For a small number of both camps and experiential programs, this year’s closures will be permanent. But barring unexpected limitations over the next year, most operations are expected to survive, and perhaps thrive as new participants are introduced to the outdoors.

“In terms of volume, everyone across the board [camps and commercial ops]told me that there was normal to above normal interest in getting outdoors and doing activities,” said Randy Smith, of Inner Quest and Vestals Gap Ventures.

For this past season, though, COVID-19 restrictions limited visits. Sherry Bagley, executive director of the Association for Experiential Education, said that perhaps 40 percent of experiential operations and camps were closed for the summer season. Many programs were shuttered for several months, some never opened, others focused on virtual programs, and some operated with small group sizes and social distancing.

“Teambuilding programs and school related programs were and remain virtually non-existent,” Smith noted in early October. Bagley said that while most universities shut down their programs, K-12 schools with their smaller outdoor programs have been able to adapt in many instances and operate in some form.

In the camp world, relatively few residential camps opened. Of those, some operated successfully, but others experienced outbreaks and had to shut down. One Georgia camp had 260 children and staff test positive.

In New England, roughly 50 percent of day camps and less than 10 percent of residential camps opened their doors this summer, according to Michele Rowcliffe, executive director of the American Camp Association, New England. In California, residential camps were not permitted to open at all.

“Location, and what your state allowed you to do, were the big influences on how people did,” said Scott Andrews, policy director for the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT).

Looking ahead, training consultant Tom Leahy remains positive. As the pandemic has continued, operators have discovered more and more ways to conduct experiential programs. “There are activities you can do that keep people apart,” he said. “COVID-19 isn’t just in our way—we can use it as a teaching tool.” Develop protocols, develop procedures, and use experiential education to teach people how to function during a pandemic, he urged.

He noted that many outdoor programs remain quite doable. “Stay outside, stay distanced, and you can do it,” he said.

Leahy applauded the shift to virtual programming and teaching via Zoom. “There are lots of people testing out different ideas and developing real content, with activity and debrief,” he noted. Programming has ranged from one- to 20-hour programs, he added. He’s also developing virtual training programs for this fall and winter.

Successful case study. A CDC study of four Maine overnight camps this past summer demonstrated that it’s possible to run a nearly-normal camp program—with the proper precautions. The study included 1,022 attendees from 41 states and international locations. The camps implemented a multilayered prevention and mitigation strategy that allowed them to successfully operate.

The protocol included pre-camp at-home quarantine, pre- and post-arrival COVID-19 testing and symptom screening, cohorting, and physical distancing between cohorts. In addition, camps required use of face coverings, enhanced hygiene measures, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, maximal outdoor programming, and early and rapid identification of infection.

A few cases of COVID-19 showed up during the four camps, and all were dealt with successfully through isolation of infected individuals and quarantining of exposed persons. Read the full report here.

“Camps are resilient and flexible by nature,” said Rowcliffe. “With the right safety measures and plenty of time to implement them, we’re confident that camp will continue in 2021.”

The same can be said about experiential education generally. “We’ve heard lots of success stories about virtual programs, and improvements in training,” said Bagley. “People have been forced outside their comfort zone and have figured out virtual training and programming. People are using video to do demonstrations, there are a lot of positives about people connecting through Zoom. The increased accessibility is a big plus.

“I am optimistic that some great things will come out of this situation, and have already. Experiential education will grow because of this.”


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