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Ever since 2012, the hits have kept on coming for SeaWorld. Despite the fact that SeaWorld Orlando is currently the least expensive major theme park to visit in central Florida, has an annual passholder program with serious perks, and offers some truly aggressive deals and discounts, SeaWorld has not bounced back from its attendance lows in 2014 and 2015 and has confirmed this week what many have long suspected: this park's recovery is not going to plan at all. 

A little over a week ago, SeaWorld put out a statement ahead of its earnings report stating that revenue and attendance declined in 2016 compared with previous years. Not a lot of specifics were given at the time, but many took this as a signal that SeaWorld’s earnings report would contain a lot of bad news. And unfortunately, this is one situation where this preliminary puff of smoke indicated that there was a blazing inferno.

Attendance is down by huge amounts in 2016, especially among annual passholders

Image: SeaWorld

SeaWorld Orlando has been in an attendance slump for the past half a decade, and though it was looking like the park was going to turn things around under new CEO Joel Manby, that unfortunately did not happen in 2016. Though we don’t have specific numbers, it was reported that as a whole attendance across the SeaWorld family of parks in the US was down across the board, with the steepest declines occurring in central Florida, where Busch Gardens Tampa and SeaWorld Orlando shed a collective half a million guests in 2016.

Image: SeaWorld

Interestingly, it looks like a lot of that lost attendance isn’t just from distracted tourists looking to spend more time at Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando Resort, as attendance among annual passholders, who should ideally make up some of this park’s most loyal “base”, was down by 18 percent in the first half of 2016 when compared with the previous year.

This is all certainly really bad news for the park, which opened new roller coaster Mako in 2016, and was hoping to see attendance finally turn around thanks to this record-breaking attraction. However, it seems like the opposite has happened. According to SeaWorld, the decline is due to bad weather in late 2016 from Hurricane Matthew, Tropical Storm Colin and Hurricane Hermine, slower domestic tourism overall in central Florida, and a decline in international attendance, primarily from Latin America.  

Image: Brian, Flickr (license)

While it’s certainly likely that all three of these issues had some effect on SeaWorld’s most recent attendance levels, we can't help but feel like there’s something else at work here as well…

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Comments

If SeaWorld is interested in getting to the root of its failed business model, Joel Manby should try looking in the mirror. Its on the skids because people who care about animals don't want to see them languishing in tiny, concrete tanks.

The only way to save sea world is for it to become a thrill Park. 3 coasters isn't going to cut it. Have to add at least 3 more. While still adding some rides for families. The world has changed and we are more conscious about animal rights. I think a thrill Park like six flags with a splash of theme and animals is what will turn guests around.

On the point about Aquatica, I would think attendance at Aquatica would actually increase because of Volcano Bay. Aquatica now stands as the ONLY 'discount' water park in Orlando as Wet n Wild closed in anticipation for Volcano Bay. Not only that, but Universal hasn't even begun selling single day tickets for Volcano Bay, which tells me this park may not be the most convenient to visit for local guests.

The actual net loss from SeaWorld in 2016 is $12.5 million, not the "staggering $12.5 Billion" as this article erroneously states.
From the news release on SeaWorlds Financial page under Full Year 2016 versus Full Year 2015,bullet point #2:
"Net loss was $12.5 million, or a loss of $0.15 per diluted share, compared to net income of $49.1 million, or $0.57 per diluted share, in 2015."

As someone who loves my hometown Sea World park here in San Diego, I was excited to visit the two Central Florida parks for the first time in 15 years on a recent visit, and was saddened to find basically dirty, poorly maintained and staffed parks with poor quality food. Both days spent there were hands-down the worst days we had during the two week visit. I really couldn't say what could improve the experience since I think the parks themselves are pretty badly flawed in their design (both involve far too much walking down narrow undefined paths) and in the politeness and competence of their staff (admittedly, slashing hours can do that to staff morale, but this is a notable drop off from what visitors are used to at the other Florida Parks)

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