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New rides help lift attendance at SeaWorld parks for second year in a row

Lori Weisberg, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

SeaWorld Entertainment managed to eke out a slight gain in attendance in 2019 across its 12 parks, extending the company's rebound from a years-long decline in visitation and revenue.

While not anywhere near as robust as the 8.6% gain in 2018, attendance still grew by 42,000, or .2 percent, reaching a little more than 22.6 million guests. That total, though, is still off the company's 2012 peak attendance of 24.4 million visitors. Revenue was also up for the year, increasing 1.9% to $1.4 billion, the Orlando-based company reported on Wednesday.

The company's "strategic focus on new rides, attractions and events in every park every year" has helped fuel significant increases in attendance and revenue over the last two years, said new SeaWorld CEO Serge Rivera.

Attendance growth was stronger in Honthe final quarter of 2019, increasing by 2.2% compared with the same period in 2019, although SeaWorld's net loss for the quarter rose to $24.2 million, more than double the $11 million loss reported for the final three months of 2018. Its financial results were weighed down by legal settlement costs, after insurance recoveries, of a little more than $32 million.

Earlier this month, SeaWorld announced it would pay $65 million to settle a longstanding lawsuit alleging that the company deceived investors when it failed to disclose early on the negative impact the anti-captivity documentary "Blackfish" had on park attendance.

Despite the higher earnings loss, overall revenue for the quarter rose by $18 million, or 6.4 percent, to $298 million compared with the same period in 2018.

While the growing spread of the coronavirus outbreak has had an impact on overseas theme parks like Disney's Shanghai and Hong Kong theme parks, which are temporarily closed, Rivera said that there so far has been no "discernible" impact on attendance at SeaWorld.

"We've seen no discernible impact to date on our business," he said in an earnings call with analysts. "We're working through and thinking through some contingency plans. Obviously, we take health and safety very seriously for our employees, our guests, the animals under our care. Beyond that, I really don't want to speculate or say more so stay tuned, I guess."


Wednesday's earnings report marks the first for Rivera, hired last month to replace former CEO Gustavo Antorcha, who left following disagreements with the board over decision-making. Rivera is the company's fourth chief executive in the last five years.

Looking ahead to this year, Rivera said he expects there will be more opportunities to drive revenue and income growth, not the least of which are the new attractions debuting in 2020, including what he called "one-of-a-kind, record-breaking roller coasters across our five major theme parks."

In San Diego, the SeaWorld park will be opening in spring Emperor, which is being billed as the tallest, fastest, longest and first floorless dive coaster on the West Coast. Rivera boasted that SeaWorld has five of the 10 most anticipated roller coasters of 2020, according to USA Today.

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