SeaWorld Attendance Down for Third Year

Sign On San Diego: SeaWorld’s Shamu may have star power but not quite enough, it seems, to lift attendance at its San Diego and Orlando parks into positive territory.

For the third year in a row, attendance at the marine parks slipped, while other parks, notably Universal Studios in Orlando and Hollywood, saw significant gains, according to a new report released this week by AECOM and the nonprofit Themed Entertainment Association.

In San Diego, SeaWorld’s attendance fell by more than 9 percent, while other Southern California theme parks all saw gains, the report revealed. Universal Studios Orlando reaped huge rewards from last year’s opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, while Universal Hollywood benefited from the debut of King Kong 360 3-D.

“Both residents and tourists are coming back to the parks,” said John Robinett, senior vice president, economics, with AECOM. “The 2010 TEA/AECOM Theme Index reveals an average attendance increase of 1.8 percent in North American parks, with many sectors at or close to pre-recession levels. The trend was generally positive.”

Not so at SeaWorld, which has tried to regain its footing following a prolonged economic downturn and restructuring of the ownership after the sale in 2009 of the SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment group to the mega private equity firm, The Blackstone Group. The death last year of one of the orca trainers at the Orlando SeaWorld was one more blow to the parks.

“Obviously, the public has not seen as much compelling new stuff in SeaWorld as in its competitors,” said Robert Niles, who oversees the online magazine, Theme Park Insider. “Universal is cleaning up in both its markets with new rides, but it takes a lot of improvements over a course of time to move attendance. SeaWorld has gone through a lot of uncertainty, but the ownership issue has cleared up, and they should have an opportunity now to move forward.”

SeaWorld San Diego acknowledges there were a number of factors that depressed attendance, including the slumping economy and an unseasonably cold summer last year, said spokesman Dave Koontz. "But we’ve been very pleased with our attendance so far this year, and we’re looking forward to a great summer," he added.

On Saturday, the park will officially debut its new sea turtle attraction, Turtle Reef, and construction is under way on a new roller coaster ride called Manta, which opens sometime next year.

2010 Attendance figures:

Ø  Disneyland: 15,980,000, up .5 percent

Ø  Disney California Adventure: 6,278,000, up 3 percent

Ø  Universal Studios Hollywood, 5,040,000, up 26 percent

Ø  SeaWorld San Diego, 3,800,000, down 9.5 percent

Ø  Knott's Berry Farm Buena Park, 3,600,000, up 8 percent


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