Make us your home page

Attendance stagnant at Busch Gardens Africa, other theme parks

A Bengal tiger makes itself at home at the opening of Busch Gardens Africa’s Jungala wildlife habitat about a year ago.

KEN HELLE | Times (2008)

A Bengal tiger makes itself at home at the opening of Busch Gardens Africa’s Jungala wildlife habitat about a year ago.

TAMPA — Jungala won international design awards, but the state-of-the-art tiger and orangutan habitat didn't turn the turnstiles fast enough for Busch Gardens Africa to post an attendance gain in 2008.

Park attendance slipped 2 percent to 4.4 million during a recession year. Theme park attendance nationally stagnated for the third consecutive year. This year, attendance at all the big parks is headed down, underscoring why summer discounts will be deep and parks with something new to promote will have an edge.

Walt Disney World already opened its American Idol stage show at Disney's Hollywood Studios. On May 22, SeaWorld unveils Manta, a looping coaster that skims prone riders close enough over a lake that its metal wings throw off a rooster tail. Universal Studios Florida has yet to say when the zero-to-65-mph Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster will open.

Attendance at the 20 top parks in North America was flat at 122.7 million in 2008 and has grown only 3.9 percent since 2005. Attendance at the 25 largest parks in the world — eight of which are in Central Florida — slipped 0.3 percent in 2008.

"The recent industrywide decline looks as though it will last the majority of 2009, with some possibility of recovery by the end of the year or early 2010," said Edward Shaw, a senior research associate at Economics Research Associates, the Los Angeles firm that compiled the theme park industry's official annual attendance report.

That's made all parks more reliant on deeper discounts to get people in the gate, then coaxing them to spend more once inside.

Creators of Jungala, touted as the biggest investment Busch ever made in a single park improvement, knew going in that nothing perks up attendance like a new thrill ride. But they stuck with a plan to refresh 16 acres into a lush garden setting with rides for pre-teens to bolster the park's balance of activities for all age groups and enhance its reputation as a world-class zoo.

The Tampa park's parent, Busch Entertainment Corp., labeled the attendance estimates, widely used by the financial community, as wrong. Busch has consistently refused to supply figures it considers proprietary, leaving ERA, which has done feasibility studies for most of the Busch, Disney and Universal Studios parks, to use other industry sources.

This time Busch said attendance at all 10 of its parks was 25.4 million, 10 percent more than the 23 million ERA estimated. Busch prefers to concentrate on the combined draw of all of its Florida parks because ticketing among them is interwoven.

"We've been happy with our attendance at Busch Gardens and so far are encouraged by what's happening in 2009," said Fred Jacobs, spokesman for Busch Entertainment.

Among water parks, Busch's Aquatica attracted 950,000 during its inaugural season, good enough to be the fourth in the country behind Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach at Disney and Wet n' Wild. Busch's Adventure Island in Tampa was seventh nationally at 603,000.

A theme of stagnancy

Eight of the 11 most popular theme parks in North American and four of the 10 biggest in the world are the backbone of the Central Florida tourist industry. Yet attendance has only grown only 3.9 percent since 2005 at the nation's top 20 parks and was essentially flat in 2008. Here's how the 11 biggest parks in North America fared:

ParkAttendancePercent Change
Magic Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista17.0 milFlat
Disneyland, Anaheim14.7 mil-1
EPCOT, Lake Buena Vista10.9 milFlat
Disney's Hollywood Studios,

Lake Buena Vista
9.6 mil+1
Disney's Animal Kingdom, Orlando9.5 mil+0.5
Universal Studios Florida, Orlando6.2 mil+0.5
SeaWorld Florida, Orlando5.9 mil-2.9
Disney's California Adventure, Anaheim5.6 mil-2
Islands of Adventure, Orlando5.3-mil-2.4
Universal Studios Hollywood,

Los Angeles
4.6 mil-2.5
Busch Gardens Africa, Tampa4.4 mil -2

SOURCE: Economic Research Associates/Themed Entertainment Association

Attendance stagnant at Busch Gardens Africa, other theme parks 04/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 10:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  2. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members


    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]
  3. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion


    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  4. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]
  5. Trigaux: Tampa Bay health care leaders wary of getting too far ahead in disruptive times


    Are attempts to repeal Obamacare dead for the foreseeable future? Might the Affordable Care Act (ACA), now in dire limbo, be revived? Will Medicaid coverage for the most in need be gutted? Can Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and House ever agree to deliver a substitute health care plan that people …

    Natalia Ricabal of Lutz, 12 years old, joined other pediatric cancer patients in Washington in July to urge Congress to protect Medicaid coverage that helped patients like Ricabal fight cancer. She was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in 2013 and has undergone extensive treatments at BayCare's St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa. [Courtesy of BayCare]