Theme Park operators in Tamil Nadu who closed gates in March due to the lockdown are struggling to meet their expenses and to maintain properties spread over several acres. A few parks have not been able to pay salaries to employees for the last three months. Others have asked temporary workers to leave and told them they would be taken back when business resumes.
The industry is seeking permission to reopen. It wants both the State and the Centre to come forward and provide support. In Tamil Nadu, one of the biggest worries is the 10% entertainment tax.
“We request the government to waive off the entertainment tax being levied only in Tamil Nadu,” said V.G.P. Ravidas, managing director of VGP Universal Kingdom. On behalf of all theme/amusement parks, he said the State should consider giving a waiver of minimum/fixed cost charges levied by the electricity department and also extend existing licenses without charges for one year.
Operators have also asked for GST waiver for the next 12 months and a reduction of effective rate of interest on loans from financial institutions. “We have prepared an SOP, engaging a consultant through our association. This will help in implementing norms set by the government when we open,” Mr. Ravidas said.
Another big player said they are on the verge of closing down. “This is a seasonal business — people come during summer or when they have a holiday. With no tourist movement, our industry has collapsed. It will take us another two years to get back to normalcy.”
Vincent Adaikalraj of Black Thunder said schools and colleges were a big market. With the closure of educational institutions there would be no excursions.
“Since the closure, the maintenance cost has been the biggest challenge. If the parks are not maintained properly rust and dirt would accumulate on the infrastructure,” he said, adding that maintenance costs are around ₹15 lakh to ₹20 lakh a month.
“Black Thunder is doing maintenance work with 70 plus people, and the other workers have been asked to come only when the park opens. While salaries were paid during the initial three months, the firm could not afford to pay after that,” said Mr. Adaikalraj.
Those in the business said physical distancing would not pose a challenge as the properties were located on huge parcels of land. With the ticketing system, they could restrict the number of people getting entry at any point of time. This was being done in major parks such as Disney World and Universal Studios.
Operators are also working out ways to keep the water rides safe.
According to estimates, there are over 25 organised players in Tamil Nadu and each employs 300-500 people. According to the Indian Association of Amusement Parks and Industries, there are 150 parks and they have projected revenue losses of over ₹1,100 crore due to COVID-19 pandemic.