Why One Theme-Park Company Swears It’s Happy to Be Attracting Fewer Visitors

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SeaWorld appears to be losing the theme-park wars lately, with declining visitor numbers during the same months that Disney and Universal have seen admission sales soar. Is this all part of the plan for SeaWorld?

For the second quarter of 2013, attendance at SeaWorld’s 11 theme parks dropped by 9% compared with the same period a year prior, and the company reported a loss of $15.9 million. What’s more, the downturn in visitor numbers has taken place during a summer when SeaWorld found itself as the unfortunate subject of a documentary film that essentially argues that orcas — the theme parks’ largest attraction — should not be kept in captivity because it’s dangerous for trainers and whales alike and just plain immoral.

All of which would seem to be bad news for SeaWorld. But company executives are attempting to spin the news in different ways. First off, they say the documentary has not had any impact on park attendance. Secondly, they’ve blamed bad weather and the fact that Easter fell in the first quarter as reasons for the falloff in visitors. Next, they’ve said that the decrease in visitors isn’t necessarily bad news. In fact, they stress that there are positives for the company when it sells fewer admissions.

Businessweek quoted SeaWorld chief executive James Atchison telling investors last week, “Having a couple fewer bodies in the park is also good for our ratings and the experience as well, and we save operating cost.”

(MORE: Is Airline-Style Variable Pricing Coming to Theme-Park Tickets?)

“Some of the attendance decline was deliberate, as the company aggressively raised ticket prices and culled certain discounts,” the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Oh yes, the ticket price increases. All of the major theme parks hiked entrance fees earlier this summer, as it has become seasonal tradition. And the company estimated that jacking up admission prices — now it’s $92 for a single-day adult ticket at SeaWorld Orlando and $89 at its sister park Busch Gardens Tampa — is the reason for one-third of the company’s visitation decrease. In any event, the decline is visitors is O.K., according to SeaWorld, because average revenues per guest in the second quarter rose from $58.75 to $62.67.

There are a few problems with SeaWorld’s explanations, however. While SeaWorld has pointed the finger at rain in Florida, the timing of Easter and ticket-price increases as reasons for the company’s decrease in visitors, Disney and Universal parks — which should also be affected by the factors mentioned — have been enjoying record-high visitor numbers. According to Hollywood Reporter, “The uptick in attendance has even allowed Disney and Universal to push through price increases that have apparently done nothing to slow the tide of visitors.”

Well, it hasn’t slowed visitation down at Disney and Universal parks. It seems to be a different story at SeaWorld’s theme parks. By the company’s own admission, price increases at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens are responsible for at least some of the slump in visitors.

(MORE: $50 Tickets Anyone? Florida Theme Parks Try Out Discounted Weekday Admissions)

But SeaWorld is cool with fewer visitors, right? Recent actions taken by the company indicate something different, however. The other problem with the company’s “all is well” stance is that despite its apparent willingness to accept a decrease in visitors as the trade-off for higher-priced admissions and higher revenues per guest, the company has been actively trying to increase visitor numbers, using aggressive, low-priced-ticket promotions as a lure. A few weeks ago, SeaWorld launched a $50 ticket deal for SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa for any midweek day through Dec. 20.

11 comments
mayer5561
mayer5561

First of all they can't just release them.They would die from disease or infection or just because they don't know how to migrate.Look up what happened to the Free Willy whale when they released it. The real solution here is to put all these poor orcas down and forget this whole tragic thing ever happened.90% of them are unnatural anyway most coming from tilikum. Secondly all these so called animal rights people don't know anything about animal natural history. You know dog and horse lovers when in reality North America is full of invasive species that don't belong here including almost every farm animal and the European bee. So in order to restore order if u will all that stuff needs to go too. Lol oh yeah and us because humans can't save animals we are killing them everyday just being human and doing what we do. A true activist would consider killing themselves in order to preserve nature. I believe as humans we are cursed with the irony of caring with one hand and killing with the other

killeen311
killeen311

Sea world educates.. What a loaded statement they educate people on how many gallons are in the tanks how many pounds of fish the captive orcas eat ect how about the fact that there are two kinds of orcas transient and residential the fact the the oldest documented whale is a female who is still living today that is an estimated 90-100 yrs of age.

Barb202
Barb202

Thanks, Brad, for pointing out the obvious, that $eaPri$on is only doing their usual "spin" and trying to save face in the light of  glaring exposes called Blackfish and Death at SeaWorld. SW is a prison, plain and simple, and the prison is full of slaves who perform tricks for food. Sad and unnecessary! I'm so glad the truth is finally being told!

anorr
anorr

SeaWorld might want to be doing some soul searching. I can tell you, I'd never go again and I'd never take my family. 

Unless they have some pretty solid proof that these whales are having the time of their lives in their tanks, then they need to release them, and apologize that they were wrong. Maybe then people will believe they are the good steward of the ocean that they have been telling they were all along.  Its just one exhibit and show and they have lots of other animals that could fill the gap.

As look as SeaWorld keeps up with the greed, and the denials, they are going to be at the loosing end of the stick. Now that everyone knows that whale captivity is not in the animal's best interest, you can admit it as well.

BigEd
BigEd

A drop in profit is usually bad for a company. But to the point of less people, better park experience, I agree. I am not in the main demographic range of the big theme parks any longer. For example, I would like to visit Disneyland one more time, but so far I have not done so because of the over crowding.  Waiting in lines for 1 hour or running around for a fast pass is not my idea of fun. Yet I personally know many young couples and families think it is all fun. 

SeaWorld, at least in past years, did a wonderful job educating and entertaining the public.  Agree or not, SeaWorld introduced millions, close up, to whales and other sea creatures. Millions would never have seen these animals in person. 

All those critical of Sea World...how do you feel about all the animals that are killed or kept kept in cages for research...you know the research that finds new cures for humans? What about those that own horses that they race or enter into competitive horse shows? Or hunters that kill all sorts of animals.?

Again, Sea World has introduced sea animals to many generations that would not have been available to most citizens. 

Big ED

SuzanneCarlson
SuzanneCarlson

If you care about animals, you'll never support their misery by buying a ticket to SeaWorld.  Your ticket, your fault. It's that simple.

jenaybrooke
jenaybrooke

And if you believe ANYTHING SeaWorld has to say, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

g.judd1111
g.judd1111

Sounds like more denial to me, something Sea World is good at.

JenniferDuaine
JenniferDuaine

NIce try guys-but not so much. Here's the thing-simple, direct. It's super un-cool to keep 12,000 pound animals captive in an inferior unnatural environment contrary to their entire way of existence, steal babies  from their packs then do it again and again- once born artificially in an artificial environment....  They are pack animals and like to roll with their homies. It is wrong to try to control them in an environment they don't belong in, and Tillikum and others have been telling you that for some time now....  Now, with this movie, there is finally a vehicle to spread this message in the way it has been needed-as in "Contagion"-it's only going to get worse for you from here.  So... instead of lame excuses for spin control, (which I know is hard to believe people aren't that stupid since so many participated in SeaWorld for so long), how bout focusing on doing the right thing? People are finally getting the picture, and you are only going to spend mo' money as you circle the drain like a bunch of seals at SeaWorld after pulling the plug on their fake sea water. So, here's some free advice. Start putting your money where your mouth is and do what's right. Whales, Dolphins, and Seals=OCEAN. As in Sea, "free to be you and me..." Orca+San Antonio, Tx. = #WRONG. No bueno. No mas. 

anorr
anorr

SeaWorld is seeing the impact of Blackfish, and its only going to get worse as the film spreads. SeaWorld is ignoring the facts that this movie uncovered, so its not too surprising that they are ignoring their declining numbers as well.

JenniferDuaine
JenniferDuaine

@BigEd That is why we have National Geographic, and many trips you can take meeting them in their own environment. To keep them hostage, just so "you can see them up close and personal," is wrong. It's all the same Ed, hundreds of Dolphins are about to be brutally murdered in Tajij... It isn't just SeaWorld, it's all of it. Watch the movie and ask your heart if it truly is right. The answer is no. And this is a long list of many things we must change by asking our hearts the tough questions.