SeaWorld Orlando killer whales

Visitor numbers are improving at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment's US theme parks, according to a new interview with the company's president and CEO.

Speaking to the Orlando Sentinel, Jim Atchison claimed that attendance across the 10 parks rose by 7 percent during the first three months of the year. This includes SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks in Florida, California and Texas, with the company expecting growth to continue throughout 2011.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is no longer obliged to report attendance figures, have been taken over by private-equity firm The Blackstone Group in 2009. However, it chose to boast of the attendance boost having publicly announced the opening of a new water park, Aquatica Texas, earlier this week.

In total, the company expects to spend $200 million on new rides and attractions this year, including the addition of the highly-anticipated Cheetah Hunt rollercoaster to Busch Gardens Tampa. 2012 will see the opening of the Manta rollercoaster at SeaWorld San Diego, as well as the Texas version of Orlando's Aquatica park.

Despite the uplift in performance at SeaWorld and several of its industry rivals, The Blackstone Group is currently looking to sell off its 50% stake in the Universal Orlando Resort. Co-owner NBC Universal is deliberating over whether to exercise up an option to take up full ownership of the resort.

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