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Cancellations, Uncertainty & Apprehension: OABA Navigates the Pandemic Year
Carnival Warehouse Interviews Greg Chiecko, President/CEO, OABA

Most Carnivals will not open in 2020
With an estimated 95% of fairs and events cancelled, the majority of carnivals in North America will not open in 2020. Some states like Illinois have restrictions put in place by the Governor only allowing a maximum gathering of 50 people until a vaccine is available.

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The COVID-19 Pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy, but the devastation seems particularly acute on the carnival companies and related business that make up the Outdoor Amusement Business Association.

While a handful of carnival companies have started to play still dates and smaller fairs, the bulk of the business – fairs – as well as literally thousands of other events, from music festivals to local charity fundraisers have canceled.  The OABA has 132 carnival company members, most of whom have been winter quarters-bound from Mid-March until now. An estimated 95 percent of fairs and outdoor events have been cancelled, and many of the events still technically set to continue are actually in a kind of limbo state, with the actual confirmation to continue or cancellation announcement remaining unissued.

For carnival companies who have decided to venture forth and attempt to salvage the remainder what's left of the 2020 season, the going is rough. Many events are still in cancellation mode, and for the carnival companies looking to operate, finding the proper authorities to work with in terms of adhering to social distancing and other guidelines can be a challenge. Unlike an amusement park who has long established relationships within a community, by their very nature traveling carnival companies must negotiate with different entities for each stop on a route.

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Greg Chiecko, President & CEO of the OABA, has the thankless task of being at the control center of for the carnival companies, whose losses this year he says will likely over near $2 billion. It's a hectic time filled mostly with uncertainty and apprehension, in addition to disseminating information about government assistance programs and tracking new closures, Chiecko is facilitating the formulation of what procedures and protocols are the best practices for operating a midway in the COVID-19 era.

In mid-June, as many states opened on a limited basis, which included a few carnival companies and midways. Carnival Warehouse spent some time with Chiecko in an attempt to gauge the extent of the pandemic's impact while trying to bring into focus what the near and distant future may hold for midway providers.


Carnival Warehouse: It must be a very difficult time for you and the OABA, I was wondering if you can gives us an idea how are you coping with this lockdown?

Greg Chiecko: We are very busy keeping up with different state and local rules, regulations and reopening procedures. We all have the capability to work remotely and often do so. In the early part of the pandemic we all worked from home. We work in the office when we need to.

CW: Has the OABA had to furlough any staff or implement any cutbacks due to the pandemic?

GC: We had to lay off our staff member responsible for Jamborees because there are no Jamborees. We are doing everything we can to keep member service levels the same.

CW: Have you lost any members, dues or other financial support due to the pandemic?

GC: Most of our dues are due on July 1st. So far, we are pacing with previous years. We won't know the full effect on membership for a few months. We do not have Jamborees, Contribution Fund or Ways and Means fundraisers. Thus far, our major revenue streams are very impacted.

CW: Have any OABA events been cancelled, or will they be held virtually?

GC: We cancelled our Spring Board Meeting. We have been holding virtual Executive and other Committee Meetings.

CW: What issues are your members needing help with from the OABA – is there a common trend among the concerns you are seeing?  

GC: We have been providing guidance for writing re-opening plans. Our biggest concerns are the uncertainty that exists. Any event can be cancelled at any time. Sometimes you don't know who the actual regulatory authority is.

CW: The country is in a recession. Unemployment is high. How do you feel this will impact the midways of OABA members?

GC: Our observations indicate that if an event opens there is a lot of pent up demand. Each individual operator will determine their own promotion. So far, we have not seen any deep discounting.

CW: For the fairs or other outdoor events considering whether or not to cancel 2020, what is your advice and/or opinion?

GC: Please consult with your carnival company before making the decision to cancel. Carnivals are a major economic component to most events. The events need to know that the carnivals have a plan to open safely.

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CW: Some amusement parks opened in June, what can the outdoor mobile amusement industry learn from their experience?

GC: They are all operating at reduced capacity. Some are doing well and some not so much. The fact of the matter is carnivals can operate with safety protocols in place. People are going to be gun shy at first. The biggest problem is their apprehension. Some places are being allowed to open slowly. But they are opening and some are doing very well.

CW: When we last spoke in April/May, the Crisis Communications Committee was newly formed. What has the committee being doing since then?

GC: We will be focusing our efforts on what it will take to get open in 2021.

CW: Some fairs and other outdoor events have opened. As this rollout begins, what signs are you looking for that might determine the rest of the season?

GC: We need to get a major fair to open and observe what takes place. For carnival companies that are opening this month, I can't give a broad opinion, the decision to open is up to each individual operator. What you are finding is a glimmer of hope, they have their help and they are taking a chance to make some money, but it's a very rough thing to do.

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CW: What if any permanent changes will there be for carnival companies and their midways?  

GC: We don't know yet. I suspect it will involve new safety and sanitation protocols.

CW: What area of the midway seems the most problematic in terms of opening under CDC guidelines and how is the OABA helping to address those concerns?

GC: There are no defined problems. Events are cancelled, in most cases, because they choose to do so. Some events are cancelled because of government re-opening plans. We have not been able to test real problems. Carnivals are ready to open with compliance to CDC recommendations. We just need to open.

CW: Do you know of any carnival companies that were forced out of business because of pandemic related cancellations?

GC: Not really and too early to tell. We are hopeful that most can weather the storm.

CW: Any idea of what to expect for the 2021 fair season? What will be the lingering impact on carnival companies and their events because of the pandemic?

GC: We are working on what the new normal might look like for 2021. One thing is for certain; we must open events in 2021.

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