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Busch Gardens admission rises $2

After a down year for attendance, Busch Gardens increased its daily admission by $2 on Monday, but let its pricing slip below the big Orlando theme parks for the first time in a decade.

To further entice local residents, the Tampa theme park unveiled an admission price reduction for Florida residents that rolls back the daily admission to about what it was three years ago.

The pricing strategy reflects how Busch Gardens relies more on local residents than its rivals and needs a pricing edge against the Orlando theme parks to woo Central Florida vacationers an hour west. Busch gets more than half its traffic from local residents, while that figure is less than a quarter for the Orlando parks.

"This is about the dynamics of our market, which is different than the Orlando parks. We raised our prices about $2 last year, too," Busch spokesman Gerard Hoeppner said of Busch's retreat to a slight discount against the Orlando competitors.

Busch's base admission price is $3.80 below the big Orlando parks that raised their prices in lockstep over the past three weeks. With taxes, the Orlando parks surged past the $60 threshold, while Busch is 14 cents below. Busch also kept its parking fee at $7 a day, $1 below the going rate in Orlando.

Excluding taxes, Busch's admission prices are $55.95 for adults, $45.95 for children 3 to 9. The park also raised the price of its Fun Card, good for unlimited visits for one year, by $2 to $61.95 for adults, $51.95 for children. Busch also continued its EZ Pay plan that allows patrons to buy a Fun Card on a $6.20 a month installment plan.

The new discount for Florida residents is $49.50 for adults. The new ticket can only be bought online. Buyers must include a Florida mailing address to buy one and display a Florida photo ID with a Florida address at the park gate. Busch's Web technicians hoped to have the Florida deal posted on the company's site (www.buschgardens.com) today.

Busch attendance was down 4 percent in 2004. Park officials blamed hurricanes, which closed the park for four days and put a damper on fall tourism. Season pass holders also did not visit as frequently.

Mark Albright can be reached at (727) 893-8252 or albrightsptimes.com.

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