‘We need to reopen the theme parks now’


VILLAGE Roadshow's boss is calling on State Government to explain why the Gold Coast's famed shopping centres can host thousands of customers but the city's renowned theme parks cannot.

Village CEO Clark Kirby, while praising the state's $50 million theme park stimulation, is baffled at why theme parks like Movie World and Sea World - which he called "shopping centres without a roof" - were not in the same category.

Clark Kirby. Picture: Adam Head
Clark Kirby. Picture: Adam Head

Under a State Government road map, theme parks can have a total of 20 guests at a time from June 12 and 100 people from July 10.

But Mr Kirby said yesterday: "Essentially if Westfield and Harbourtown can have thousands of people through, we are essentially - if you look at our thoroughfares - a shopping centre without a roof.

"We're actually far better prepared to monitor social distancing than a shopping centre," he said. "It does not make sense for us to open our doors unless we can have about 5000 people through the gates.'

The theme park industry has been on a roller coaster ride. Photo Annette Dew
The theme park industry has been on a roller coaster ride. Photo Annette Dew

Mr Kirby said despite meetings with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Tourism Minister Kate Jones on reopening the sticking point was how many patrons would be allowed.

Destination Gold Coast CEO Annaliese Battista backed his call, saying the best assistance would be a reopening date for the parks and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary: "These venues rely on large groups but at the moment there is no road map for them to viably reopen.

"It is important we get them open."

When the Bulletin asked Tourism Minister Kate Jones' office what the difference was between malls and theme parks, the query was fobbed off by a spokesman who said it was a Queensland Health matter.


Village Roadshow is building its new Atlantis precinct at Sea World.
Village Roadshow is building its new Atlantis precinct at Sea World.

Mr Kirby's query comes after Mr Palaszczuk unveiled $50 million to help struggling theme parks which he said was "phenomenal".

Theme parks were forced to close in late March in the early stages of the COVID-19 unprecedented restrictions. For Village, that meant 5000 staff stood down and being paid via leave entitlements before JobKeeper kicked in.

Details are scarce on how the $50 million will be spent but Ms Palaszczuk said it was critical to get the tourism drawcards operating again.

Annaliese Battista Picture: Mike Batterham
Annaliese Battista Picture: Mike Batterham

"It has been absolutely heartbreaking to witness as we have been forced to make tough but unavoidable decisions to close the border and place hard restrictions on the industry, knowing they would hurt," she said.

"That's why we are committing $50 million to support our tourism businesses, iconic theme parks and animal parks.

"We want them to get through this, survive and come out at the other end stronger, more resilient and able to continue to make their critical contributions Queensland."

On Monday, Village announced it had entered talks with BGH Capital for a buyout of the company. But BGH's offer is at least partly dependent on the theme parks reopening prior to a shareholder meeting in September.

Clark Kirby and Bikash Randhawa. Picture: Regina King
Clark Kirby and Bikash Randhawa. Picture: Regina King

Mr Kirby said there was no guarantee the BGH negotiations would end in a sale: "There is a lot of uncertainty around it. There won't be a vote until probably September.

"We still have a lot of financing pressures. That's why the government assistance has been fantastic. For our personal family we are not selling out. It is going to be potentially a great partnership."

Under terms of the agreement Village's major shareholders including chairman Robert Kirby and non-executive directors John Kirby and Graham Burke (who own 40 per cent) would receive cash and shares in a new BGH company controlling Village. Mr Kirby would stay CEO and Robert Kirby as executive chairman.

The $2.40 per share offer is less than the $4 per share BGH offered in January.

Originally published as 'We need to reopen the theme parks now'