While we still have a little longer to go before the official TEA/AECOM theme park attendance report is released, we already know thanks to Disney’s own financial documents that attendance in 2016 missed the mark by a pretty substantial margin, causing last minute budget cuts, staff reductions and more. And now, new data released earlier this month shows more trends that could be concerning, not just for Walt Disney World, but for the larger theme park industry as well.
Earlier this month, PGAV Destinations released its second annual Voice of the Visitor: 2017 Annual Outlook on the Attractions Industry, and some of the findings of this report seem to indicate that there could be trouble ahead for theme park giants like Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World. Here's what they found:
1. Growth across the entire theme park industry is essentially stagnant
While the PGAV Destinations report did not provide specific attendance figures for theme parks in 2016, across all theme parks in the United States, growth was only at 2% for the year, with 37% of survey respondents saying they had visited a theme park in the past year, compared with 35% for the previous year. And perhaps even more troublingly, theme park attendance is only forecasted to rise 4% in 2017, which is especially concerning for big parks like Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort because of another trend uncovered by this report...
2. The majority of today’s theme park tourists are locals
One of the big reasons why Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort can post massive attendance gains year over year while other theme parks like Carrowinds, King’s Dominion and Cedar Point see attendance more or less stay stable is because the former put considerable resources into attracting international guests, while the latter focus primarily on locals and annual passholders. However, that strategy may falter in the coming years if recent trends continue to develop.
In 2016, only 52% of those surveyed by PGAV Destinations traveled more than 50 miles to visit a theme park, which is down 9% from the previous year. Guests simply aren’t wanting to travel far to visit attractions anymore, and while the tendency for theme park tourists to continue to visit local attractions is good for regional parks like Six Flags and Busch Gardens, international attractions simply can’t just rely on locals if they want to see the kind of growth they are looking for year over year.
Interestingly, the report also mentioned that annual passholders for theme parks across the country are also becoming more of a rarity, as less than a quarter of survey respondents used a season pass to go to a theme park in 2016, down from nearly a third in the previous year.
So, to recap, guests are traveling less, not visiting for long, and not looking to make many return visits. Which certainly sounds quite dire. But there are some bright spots for the theme park industry to be found in this report as well...