SeaWorld parks see first annual gain in attendance since 2015
Last year proved to be a comeback for long beleaguered SeaWorld Entertainment, which saw its first annual gain in attendance since 2015, the company reported Thursday.
Total visitation in 2018 grew by approximately 1.8 million guests to reach 22.6 million, an increase of 8.6 percent. Company revenue also rose by a healthy 8.6 percent, reaching $1.37 billion — a marked departure from 2017 when revenue fell by 6 percent.
Except for a modest .3 percent uptick in 2015, attendance has been on a downward trend for the last several years and is still far off the 2012 peak of 24.4 million visitors.
SeaWorld’s rebound, though, has continued through four consecutive quarters, with attendance rising by 8 percent in the final quarter of 2018 and revenue growing to $280 million, an increase 5.5 percent compared with the same quarter a year earlier.
SeaWorld credited continued marketing efforts, better pricing strategies and a strong lineup of attractions across its12 parks for the fourth quarter gains.
“We believe there are significant additional opportunities to further improve and enhance our execution and to identify and execute on additional cost savings and efficiencies that will drive strong revenue and profitability in 2019,” said SeaWorld Chief Operating Officer John Reilly.
With four consecutive quarters of positive financial reports, SeaWorld appears to have finally shaken off the lingering effects of “Blackfish,” the 2013 documentary critical of SeaWorld’s treatment of its killer whales.
Although SeaWorld Entertainment decided nearly three years ago to halt the breeding of its orca population and phase out the theatrical Shamu shows, it has taken time for the marine parks to overcome the anti-captivity sentiment that was contributing to the attendance decline.
What has proven effective in luring more guests to the SeaWorld theme parks is the company’s more recent efforts to unveil a steady stream of new attractions, as well as special events throughout the year. That’s especially true in San Diego, which by 2020 will have rolled out three new roller coasters in as many years.
Its latest coaster, Tidal Twister, a dueling roller coaster that runs along a figure-8 track, is scheduled to open in May.
While SeaWorld does not break out numbers for individual parks, the San Diego park has seen a marked improvement, based on its lease payments to the city of San Diego. The city took in nearly $11.1 last year, a 5.6 percent increase over the revenues it received in 2017. SeaWorld San Diego is expected to report its annual attendance by Friday.