SeaWorld’s revenue and attendance numbers for 2016 were released this week, and the situation – as one might expect – isn’t particularly good.
The company and the Orlando park both are still feeling the consequences of the Blackfish controversy; the 2013 documentary galvanized anti-captivity advocates and produced a tidal wave of bad publicity for SeaWorld, resulting in what is now years-long declines in profits and the number of visitors to its marque parks across the country. By the time the company decided that ignoring the problem wasn’t going to cut it and opted to address the situation head on, it was too little, too late, with even a number of musical acts protesting SeaWorld by pulling out – sometimes at the last minute – from the Bands, Brews, and BBQ summer fest.
The company can’t seem to get out ahead of the ever-worse news, even after announcing that it was ending its captive breeding program and retiring its various orca shows – and unveiling a new slate of attractions that aim to up the thrills and the educational experience both, such as last summer’s massive Mako hypercoaster. The parks have continually been losing attendance over the past four years, with 2016 easily representing the nadir thus far – according to the Orlando Sentinel, for the year’s fourth quarter, SeaWorld’s total revenue was $267.6 (compared to $267.9 in Q4 2015) and its net loss was 14 cents per share (the previous year saw a drop of 13 cents). And for 2016 in total, the company suffered a loss of $12.5 million, partially thanks to more guests bypassing SeaWorld proper for the various water parks, such as Orlando’s Aquatica.
(SeaWorld officially blames the losses on Hurricane Matthew, which forced all of the area’s theme and water parks to close for more than a full day, and on ’16 being an overall anemic year for Florida tourism.)
But not everything is all doom and gloom. Annual passholder sales are up slightly – four percent – and guests are spending more in-park, such as on food and beverages and on the Express Pass-esque Quick Queue service. And looking forward to the future, SeaWorld executives have already outlined a plan to stimulate future growth: introducing even more new rides (the Orlando location will be getting a virtual-reality upgrade to the popular Kraken roller coaster, for instance), cutting costs (by laying off a portion of its workforce and in investing in low-cost attractions, such as the aforementioned VR), and refinancing its debt.
There’s also the financial repositioning it has been doing. Whereas both Disney and Universal continue upping their ticket prices, SeaWorld has been deliberating setting itself up as the less expensive alternative – a place to get some of the Universal thrills and a taste of Disney theming without breaking the family’s bank. When combined with the fact that lots of new tourists will be arriving in Orlando this year for Pandora: The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World and Volcano Bay over at Universal Orlando, and the fact that the company is implementing a long-term plan aimed at turning all of its various parks around, the future just might be starting to look bright for SeaWorld for the first time in a long time.
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