AUSTRALIA’S Dreamworld theme park on the Gold Coast reopened to the public yesterday, six weeks after an accident on its Thunder River Rapids ride claimed the lives of four people.
Crowd numbers were well below that of an average Saturday and most of the major rides are yet to reopen while a safety audit is still underway.
Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett, his partner Roozi Araghi and Cindy Low died when a ride malfunctioned in October. It was the deadliest accident at an Australian theme park since the 1970s.
Since then the park has worked hard to rebuild its brand and reputation, and despite the low visitor numbers on day one, park officials believe they will regain public trust.
At the opening, Dreamworld CEO Craig Davidson said: “Today the smiles of Dreamworld staff sit atop heavy hearts. Reopening the doors today is an important milestone for our park, our staff and the Gold Coast community.”
The re-opening coincides with the “Open hearts open doors” charity weekend in which the park will donate $25 (about US$18) for every guest and passholder through the door on December 11-12 to Red Cross, who will distribute it to the families and those most affected.
Dreamworld also offered an extra six months to every pass holder’s current expiry date.
Visitor feedback to the first day was largely positive on the Dreamworld Facebook page.
However, not all comments on Twitter were favorable.
#Dreamworld – my thoughts only 2 the families. Was there 4 months b4 on exact ride. Want 2 see documented statements of $25 donation pledged
— Nicky Black (@NickyBlack17) December 10, 2016
#dreamworld fun park reopens .you could not even pay me to ever go to that park .4 people lost their lives because of negligence and greed
— George Bakhos (@GeorgeBakhos) December 10, 2016
Other sites sought to garner public feedback with The New Daily asking, “Would you take your family to Dreamworld” in an online poll. Results had not yet been presented at the time of publication.
The Gold Coast Bulletin reported that Dreamworld’s parent company Ardent Leisure had lost around $295,000 per day since the accident. The company had initially wanted to reopen just days later, but this was prolonged due to ongoing investigations by Queensland Police and the safety audit.
The Bulletin also said the mother of victims Kate Goodchild and Luke Dorsett was prepared for the reopening.
Close friend Sandra Brookfield said: “I asked her how she felt about it and she said it had to happen eventually. It is still quite raw for her but she said she understands.”
“It was always going to reopen eventually and there are people who need their jobs. The theme park has been in contact with her often — there have been no problems there,” she added.
The closure of the park has hit the region hard. Deputy Mayor of the City of Gold Coast, Donna Gates, said the closure, “None of us will ever forget the tragedy of six weeks ago.”
The Gold Coast City Council and state government will spend $100,000 (about US$75,000) in an effort to bring in as many visitors to the famed tourist strip for the Christmas holiday period.
Gates told the Gold Coast bulletin, “This funding was purely a gesture to support the tourism industry and to highlight the broader experiences that are available.”
While there are no reports of other tourism operators being affected by the tragedy, Dreamworld itself may struggle to regain its reputation.
Ardent Leisure was criticized for its initial handling of the tragedy and failure to contact the victim’s families.
Dr David Beirman, a tourism expert at UTS told news.com.au it would be a hard for the park to fully rebound from the tragedy.
He said the opening had left enough time for rides to be checked and to suit the public mood but the damage to the brand would be hard to gauge.
He said, “A lot of people could now be treating Dreamworld with a bit of that suspicion and concern… I would think in the first few days you will get a lot of people who come through curiosity. Hopefully that will start to develop a momentum.”
Nine of the major thrill rides at Dreamworld remain shut while safety reviews are conducted. The Thunder River Rapids ride has been decommissioned and will be removed. For the time being it remains shielded from view.
This story first appeared on Asian Correspondent.