Sunday, April 22, 2018
Travel

Busch Gardens, SeaWorld attendance down in 2013

For fans of Busch Gardens, the numbers are as disappointing as a "closed for maintenance'' sign on their favorite ride.

While the Tampa Bay area continues to shatter tourism records, attendance at its top attraction (aside from beaches) dropped 6 percent last year.

That was the steepest decline of any of the top 20 amusement parks in North America and largest annual dip since the recession in 2009.

Busch Gardens' sister parks also owned by SeaWorld Entertainment didn't fare much better. Attendance decreased 5 percent at SeaWorld in Orlando and 3 percent at SeaWorld in San Diego. Visitor traffic at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., slid 4.5 percent.

This wasn't part of some industry trend. Attendance at the top U.S. and Canadian parks rose 2.7 percent overall, according to the Themed Entertainment Association's report, considered the best independent measure of theme park attendance. Universal Studios Orlando led the pack with a 14 percent boost. Disney's Magic Kingdom, the busiest theme park in the world, saw a 6 percent rise, by far its biggest gain in years.

So what's the deal?

Brian Sands, co-author of the Global Attractions Attendance Report, blamed it on several factors that affected all the SeaWorld parks. For one, the parks increased their ticket prices to be more in line with Disney and Universal, parks with more elaborately themed, immersive experiences. Then, some of the parks got hit with bad weather during peak times.

Of course, there was stiff competition. In 2013, Disney continued rolling out Fantasyland, its biggest expansion in the park's 41-year history. Universal Studios Orlando debuted the Transformers 3D ride.

By contrast, Tampa's Busch Gardens had no major new attractions in 2013 to lure visitors to the gate. It announced the addition of Falcon's Fury, a 335-foot drop tower ride, but it was a year away (and still isn't open).

"It's not a surprise. We knew last year with the cuts happening with Summer Nights that they weren't doing too well,'' said Bill Androckitis, a Busch Gardens blogger for BGTfans.com, referring to the park's shortened hours and restaurant closures.

Even SeaWorld Orlando, with its new Antarctica section and penguin habitat, struggled to keep up.

"Regrettably, penguins are not a highly charismatic animal. They are just modestly charismatic,'' Sands said. "They aren't the same thing as a dolphin in the broadness of their appeal.''

And who can forget Blackfish? The controversial documentary movie about killer whales in captivity prompted celebrity boycotts of SeaWorld parks, including Busch Gardens, even though it doesn't have whales.

SeaWorld officials have said the movie, while it drew a lot of media attention, didn't have a huge impact on the bottom line. Sands, who co-wrote the attendance report, agrees.

"When you think about the people who are going to theme parks, it's really the middle class and families who want a day out,'' he said. "I don't think that group is as focused on animal welfare as some other people are.''

Despite the weak numbers, SeaWorld officials say the figures are just estimates and, overall, they had a strong year. The company had a successful public stock offering and revenue reached $1.5 billion, up 3 percent from 2012.

More significantly, perhaps, the company's per-guest revenue jumped 7 percent to $62.43, a sign that visitors are spending more on admission, food and merchandise in the park.

Experts expect Busch Gardens will bounce back in the 2014 report, which will reflect an attendance boost from Falcon's Fury. The drop tower ride was scheduled to open in early May but has been postponed until later this summer because of testing issues.

Still, the park faces challenges. Unlike Disney and Universal, Busch Gardens doesn't have destination hotels, shopping centers and restaurants to draw guests for multiday visits. Further delays of Falcon's Fury could cause even more people to postpone park visits.

Competitors aren't sitting on their hands, either. The centerpiece of Disney's Fantasyland, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, opened a few weeks ago. Part two of the Harry Potter phenomenon, Diagon Alley, opens soon at Universal Orlando. Huge crowds are already itching to go.

Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.

Comments
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18
In Bhutan, gross national happiness more important than GDP

In Bhutan, gross national happiness more important than GDP

Associated PressLAYA, BhutanPrayer flags whip in the wind, flying across steep valleys and roads. Buddhist temples, stupa shrines and majestic fortresses called zhongs dot the landscape. Giant water-powered prayer wheels spin from tumbling falls. Far...
Published: 04/20/18
On its 20th anniversary, Disney's Animal Kingdom credits conservation with longevity

On its 20th anniversary, Disney's Animal Kingdom credits conservation with longevity

ORLANDO — When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened 20 years ago, it was light on thrills and heavy on conservation. On April 22, 1998, Earth Day, the Orlando park had a single thrill ride, Countdown to Extinction, and a handful of shows like ...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Universal to fill 3,000 jobs as ‘Fast & Furious’ ride, new hotels race to open

Universal to fill 3,000 jobs as ‘Fast & Furious’ ride, new hotels race to open

Universal Orlando Resort has finally given a hint about the opening of the new Fast & Furious – Supercharged attraction coming some time in May. And the company is looking for more than 3,000 new workers as it opens new attractions and hotels this s...
Published: 04/13/18
Universal offers a four-pack of tickets for $42 a day

Universal offers a four-pack of tickets for $42 a day

For Floridians looking to get away for the weekend and experience a little bit of movie magic, Universal Studios will be offering a discount on a four-pack of tickets from now until April 30.Florida residents can take advantage of an exclusive offer ...
Published: 04/11/18
Medieval #TimesUp? Florida attraction announces its first queen

Medieval #TimesUp? Florida attraction announces its first queen

Medieval Times in Orlando has announced some big changes.
Published: 04/11/18
Off the map in Oaxaca, Mexico, with a unique ecotour company

Off the map in Oaxaca, Mexico, with a unique ecotour company

CITY OF OAXACA, MexicoTourism to Mexico is a mixed bag, as high-end resorts abut areas of extreme poverty. Throw in recent political tensions around the border and news about drug-related violence, and Americans have many reasons to steer clear. But ...
Published: 04/11/18
A trip to lovely Joshua Tree National Park transports visitors to another world

A trip to lovely Joshua Tree National Park transports visitors to another world

From my perch at the peak of Ryan Mountain, 5,457 feet above sea level, a vast and undeveloped landscape stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. It was dotted with rock piles that looked quizzically out of place from above, curious ...
Updated one month ago
A glow-in-the-dark waterslide is coming to Tampa Bay

A glow-in-the-dark waterslide is coming to Tampa Bay

If you’ve ever wanted to dive down a giant waterslide in the pitch black of night while splashing round in neon glow-in-the-dark water, head to Lakeland on June 30.That’s when the Blacklight Slide will be set up at the Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, and the...
Updated one month ago
Universal offers buy one, get one free deal on Halloween Horror Nights

Universal offers buy one, get one free deal on Halloween Horror Nights

Universal has gotten an extra early jump on Halloween season, announcing the dates for 2018’s Halloween Horror Nights as well as a limited-time ticket deal of $77.99 that gets you into the scare zones on a second night for free. The theme park will o...
Updated one month ago