SeaWorld Entertainment, the parent company of Busch Gardens, reported a second-quarter profit that more than doubled from the same quarter last year, when it was in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. And even though attendance was down from 2019 highs, the company beat market expectations.
The company, which owns theme parks nationwide including Busch Gardens in Tampa and Orlando’s SeaWorld, Aquatica and Discovery Cove, said it is closing the gap on the post-coronavirus plunge in attendance, and also is seeing a spike in spending by visitors.
In its second quarter report on Thursday, the company reported net income of $127.8 million, after reporting a loss in the same period a year earlier. On a per-share basis, the Orlando-based company reported earnings of $1.59 per share, while the market predictions were for a decline of 32 cents a share.
Attendance was 5.8 million guests, an increase of 5.5 million guests from the second quarter of 2020. Compared to the second quarter of 2019, attendance was down by 10 percent. But early this year in its first quarter report, attendance was down by almost 20 percent from the same time in 2019, so company officials saw the rising attendance as a good sign, especially in July.
“I am pleased to report that, despite continuing to operate in a highly challenging and COVID-19 impacted environment, momentum from the first quarter continued into the second quarter and we delivered strong second quarter financial results — including record revenue and net income,” said Marc Swanson, CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.
It’s biggest bright spot was from the second quarter was in-park spending at $33.84 million, an increase of 11.6 percent from the same time in 2020, and it’s even a jump over the second quarter of 2019, when in-park spending for that quarter was reported at $27.57 million.
Total revenue was a record $439.8 million, giving its stock price a boost to close at $51.30 a share Thursday.
“While its attendance was still meaningfully below its pre-pandemic level (despite a major improvement from its year-ago evaporation),” CFRA Research said in a statement elevating its opinion of SeaWorld as an investment. “SEAS should increasingly reap further pent-up demand,” for entertainment, it said.
Swanson was asked by investors during an earnings call about the impact of COVID-19, especially on international travel, and about Florida being among the states hit hardest by the highly contagious delta variant that has spread through unvaccinated populations.
Swanson said international travel usually makes up a solid 10 percent of its attendance. If international travelers were back, that attendance number would not have been down 10 percent, “but more likely up by single digits.”
As for the delta variant, he said July’s strong attendance figures tell him it isn’t affecting theme park attendance.
“Obviously we know it’s out there and it’s on peoples minds, but we don’t see any impact or change in attendance related to the delta variant,” Swanson said.
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Swanson credited his money management team for coming up with more ways to increase in-park spending without hurting the visitor’s experience. That includes special events like food and wine festivals, the Howl-O-Scream after-hours Halloween at Busch Gardens and, for the first time, coming to SeaWorld this fall.
“New venues from ice cream parlors, to coffee shops, to new bars in the parks,” Swanson said, played a part in fueling per-capita spending. Just this year, Busch Gardens opened the new Giraffe Bar in March at Serengeti Overlook where guests can watch the giraffes, zebras and antelopes as they sip cocktails.
And the company is rolling out a new mobile app, at SeaWorld Orlando for now but not yet at all of its parks, that will also add value like a mobile ordering feature for restaurants.
There was no word, however, of two of the biggest attractions that were supposed to have opened in Florida in 2020. The Iron Gwazi coaster at Busch Gardens and Ice Breaker at SeaWorld have yet to announce opening dates.