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Busch Gardens, SeaWorld attendance drops 96 percent due to coronavirus

The company hasn't ruled out Howl-O-Scream as attendance has risen since reopening in June.

The company that owns Busch Gardens, Adventure Island and SeaWorld saw nearly 96 percent drops in attendance and revenue during the second quarter of 2020.

SeaWorld Entertainment executives announced the dismal numbers for April, May and June during a conference call with investors on Monday, saying the coronavirus pandemic led to a net loss of $131 million at its 12 parks.

Only seven of those parks, all in Florida and Texas, were open for a portion of the quarter in June, with Busch Gardens reopening June 10. As a result, quarterly attendance nationwide dropped from 6.5 million in 2019 to 300,000 this year.

Despite summer coronavirus spikes in Florida and Texas, interim SeaWorld CEO Marc Swanson said attendance has ticked back up by 15 percent from June 28 to Aug. 2.

“We’ve been adding back events, we’ve been adding back operating days, we’ve been giving people a reason to come visit,” he said. “Florida’s hanging in there, and we feel good overall about the parks that are open.”

Related: Busch Gardens reopens to light, sweaty crowds wearing face masks

Swanson said about half of the crowds at most parks are local, compared to around 40 percent in most years.

“It tells you we’re getting others who are definitely driving into the parks, which we’re pleased with,” he said. “We’re not dependent on air travel into the market. We have a lot of people who can drive and access our parks.”

SeaWorld’s earnings report is in line with those from Central Florida’s other major theme park operators. Last week, Disney announced it took a $3.5 billion financial hit from the closure of all its parks during the pandemic. Comcast, the parent company of Universal Orlando, said its quarterly theme park attendance dropped 94.1 percent.

Related: Disney theme parks take $3.5 billion hit this spring

Universal has already canceled its popular Halloween Horror Nights event for this year. Swanson would not go that far, saying parks were planning “modified versions” of Halloween and Christmas events like Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream, depending on certain factors like schools reopening and closing.

“We’re going to do our events,” he said. “We’re going to do Halloween, we’re going to do Christmas. Whether we run every single day like last year remains to be seen.”

The company has pushed all its current 2020 attraction openings, including Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens and Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando, to next year. Chief accounting officer Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy said the park was 87 percent complete with projects they expected to open in 2021.

To weather the financial storm, SeaWorld has amended its credit agreements in June and last week offered $500 million in private, secured, senior notes. The added cash, Swanson said, gives the company operating flexibility and some freedom to make long-term plans — including looking for ways to grow alongside “competitors in this industry who aren’t able to weather this storm.”

“Whether it’s a water park, a hotel, a park that we could look at and convert to a Sesame Place, for example, those are the sort of things we’re talking about,” he said.

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