SeaWorld Orlando could be the first local theme park not ranked in the top 25 in the world for attendance

click to enlarge SeaWorld Orlando could be the first local theme park not ranked in the top 25 in the world for attendance
Photo via SeaWorld
The annual theme park attendance numbers have been posted by the Themed Entertainment Association in conjunction with AECOM, and the numbers don’t look good for some local theme parks.

The annual report, while mostly unofficial, is used as the industry standard and is regularly cited by the parks in annual reports and shareholder calls.

Despite new additions to many of its parks and an entirely new park opening in Shanghai, Disney saw an increase of less than 1 percent, though it was still the most visited theme park chain in the world with 139 million guests last year.

Disneyland Paris saw a drop of 14 percent from the previous year to 8.4 million, while Hong Kong Disneyland brought in 6.1 million visitors, a 10 percent drop.

Closer to home, Universal Studios Hollywood saw a jump of 13.9 percent, the largest of any theme park in North America and nearly double the next closest, Six Flags Magic Mountain, which saw a 7.3 percent increase. Globally, theme parks saw a decrease of 1.1 percent while parks in North America saw a 1.1 percent increase.

In Orlando, the story is a bit more bumpy. The big story is Universal, which now rakes in a whopping 25 percent of the local theme park market share, compared to only 16 percent in 2009 before any Harry Potter-themed attractions opened. At the same time, Disney now only accounts for 69.3 percent of the market share, a drop of 5.6 percent since 2009. Islands of Adventure, which saw the new Kong ride open in 2016, had a 6.5 percent increase in attendance, while Universal Studios Florida saw 4.3 percent increase. Universal Studios Florida and IOA are the only two non-Disney theme parks to crack the global top 10 most visited, coming in at No. 9 and No. 10 respectively.

Since 2009, attendance at Universal Orlando has nearly doubled (a 90.6 percent increase) while Disney World’s attendance has only seen an increase of 13.1 percent. Despite the overall growth in attendance, not a single Disney park in North America posted positive attendance numbers, with Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios tying for the least decrease with a mere half a percent while Disneyland, which was coming off a massive 60th Anniversary celebration, saw the largest drop with a 1.8 percent decrease but still held onto the title of the second most visited theme park in the world. Despite the negative numbers, Disney has the top five most visited theme parks in the United States with Magic Kingdom’s 20,395,000 guests making it the most visited theme park in the world. Disneyland is the only non-Walt Disney World park to be in the top 5 parks in North America. If current trends continue, Disney’s Hollywood Studios may be toppled by Universal Studios by next year. Currently the two parks only have an attendance difference of 778,000.

The biggest story of the new numbers is just how bad SeaWorld is doing. Since 2009 they’ve dropped from around 9 percent of market share to just 5.7 percent. That equates to a drop in attendance of 24.1 percent, placing the park 25th in the world for attendance. If current trends continue, SeaWorld Orlando will be the first theme park in Orlando not to be ranked in the top 25 in the world for attendance. In 2009, just before Potter and the Tilikum incident, SeaWorld ranked 12th in attendance globally. With 4.4 million guests, a 7.9 percent decrease, SeaWorld Florida currently ranks 10th in North America for attendance. Busch Gardens Tampa is just behind it with 4,169,000 guests, a 2 percent decrease. SeaWorld San Diego, the only other SeaWorld Entertainment-owned park to rank in North America’s 20 most visited, saw flat attendance with 3.5 million guests, putting it as the 15th most popular.

On the water park side of things, the numbers weren’t much better. While Disney World’s two water parks still ranked as the most visited in North America, Typhoon Lagoon (ranked No. 1 in North America and No. 2 globally) saw an attendance decrease of 0.7 percent, while its sister park, Blizzard Beach, saw a decrease of 0.8 percent. Both parks had just over 2 million visitors last year. SeaWorld Orlando’s water park, Aquatica, ranked 7th in the world attendance and third in North America despite a 4 percent decrease in attendance with 1.53 million guests. Wet ‘n Wild, which closed permanently on Dec. 31, came in 11th worldwide and 3rd in North America with a flat attendance of 1.31 million guests.

Overall the numbers seem to show Universal is doing everything right. With new major additions involving Nintendo, Dreamworks, and other likely more Potter Universal’s market share is expected only to grow. Disney is expected to win back some of its former growth with major new additions coming to all four of its parks in the coming years, including the recently opened Pandora: The World of Avatar expansion at Animal Kingdom and the hotly anticipated Star Wars expansion coming to Hollywood Studios.

SeaWorld meanwhile is looking to stop the hemorrhaging decline in attendance with updated shows, new festivals such as the popular Seven Seas Food & Wine festival it debuted at SeaWorld Orlando earlier this year, and a major new Sesame Street expansion here in Orlando that will open within the next five years. The real question is with Universal and Disney going all in on new expansions will it be enough to keep SeaWorld in the coveted Top 25 theme parks worldwide.