SeaWorld names hotel industry executive as new CEO

Lori Weisberg, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Business News

SeaWorld Entertainment announced Thursday it has appointed Sergio "Serge" Rivera, an executive in the vacation ownership industry, to replace its recently departed CEO, who left following disagreements with the board over decision-making.

Rivera, 57, who most recently served as president of Ocean Reef Club, a private residential club, and had been a top executive at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, will join the company on Monday. He replaces Gustavo "Gus" Antorcha, a former executive with the Carnival cruise line who left SeaWorld in September after just seven months on the job. With his appointment, Rivera now becomes the theme park company's fourth CEO in the last five years.

"The Company has an exceptional business model, an irreplaceable set of assets and an incredibly talented group of ambassadors who are driving extraordinary service and experiences for our guests," Rivera said in a statement. "While very strong progress has been made executing against the long-term plan in place, I know that there's more to do to ensure that the long-term potential of the business is fully unlocked. I look forward to working with this very talented team to further improve our execution and dramatically increase shareholder value."

Rivera, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, will earn an annual base salary of $600,000, plus stock options, as part of his three-year employment contract.

Rivera most recently had worked at Ocean Reef Club, from February to May of this year. Before that, he was president of the vacation ownership segment of timeshare operator ILG, Inc., from 2016 to September 2018. Marriott Vacations Worldwide acquired by ILG last year. Before joining ILG, Rivera had been employed for 21 years by Starwood Hotels where he held a number of positions, including President of the Americas.

CEO Mark Swanson, who will now return to his former role as the company's chief financial officer.

The announcement came on the same day that SeaWorld reported disappointing results for the third quarter, which represents a big chunk of the company's crucial summer season. In a reversal of past quarters, SeaWorld saw its visitation drop by nearly 3 percent, with 221,000 fewer visitors coming to its 12 parks during the months of July, August and September compared with the same period in 2018. Also down were overall revenues, which dropped by $9.5 million, or 2 percent, to $473.7 million.

The third quarter declines were in marked contrast to a year ago when total visitation grew by approximately 700,000 guests, an increase of 9.7 percent. Similarly, revenues a year ago rose by $45.5 million, or 10.4 percent, to $483 million. SeaWorld blamed the drops in attendance on bad weather in Florida, plus a calendar shift that resulted in one less peak summer weekend day compared to a year earlier.


Those two factors likely reduced SeaWorld's quarterly attendance by approximately 330,000, reported interim

Like the company as a whole, the San Diego park also experienced a revenue decline during the third quarter. SeaWorld Entertainment does not break out numbers for individual parks, but lease payments made by the San Diego park to the city of San Diego for its Mission Bay site show a slight decline during the third quarter, reflecting a slowdown in revenues from admissions and food and beverage sales.

During the months of July, August and September, payments to the city totaled more than $3,924,681, a 3.6% decrease compared with the same three-month period a year earlier.

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