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
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.
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.
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…