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SeaWorld unable to reverse continued attendance slide

Lori Weisberg, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Business News

SAN DIEGO -- SeaWorld attendance and revenues fell sharply during the key summer months, with the San Diego and Orlando marine parks experiencing the brunt of poor visitation trends, the company reported Tuesday.

While the third quarter results for the Florida and Texas parks were clearly impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, which forced them to close temporarily, SeaWorld San Diego's attendance woes had more to do with the "public perception" issues that have dogged it for the last several years, the company acknowledged.

Its falling attendance was fueled in part by fewer visitors from the Southern California area, the company said.

Companywide, attendance during the quarter ending Sept. 30 declined nearly 9 percent, with 732,000 fewer people visiting the theme parks compared with the same quarter a year earlier. Just a year ago, attendance during the third quarter had been flat.

Quarterly revenues also saw a steep drop last quarter, falling by 10 percent, to $437.7 million, SeaWorld Entertainment reported.

More precipitous was the fall in net profits -- 16 percent -- to $55 million from $65.7 million a year earlier.

 

The company's poor showing comes on the heels of continued cost-cutting, which included the recent elimination of 350 positions. SeaWorld says it remains on track to reach its target of $40 million in net cost savings by the end of 2018. It also identified an additional $25.0 million in cost savings

In what has become a familiar refrain, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said he expects that new attractions, pricing promotions and aggressive marketing will help drive a turnaround. Zeroing in on San Diego, the park he said needs the most attention, Manby sought to put a positive spin on the disappointing quarterly results, pointing to an uptick in attendance in October.

"Our local attendance in San Diego is up double digits on a day to day basis in October and that's the strongest increase we've had all year," Manby told analysts during the earnings call. " ... I'm not using that to predict exact outcomes for the future, but we're very encouraged because San Diego is the key park for us to turn, as well as Orlando."

Manby credited a new local advertising campaign, "Park to Planet," for helping drive the turnaround. "Park to Planet," a feel-good commercial dominated by video of the ocean, marine mammals, rescue work and undersea exploration, began airing in San Diego last month and is expected to go nationwide next year.

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