SeaWorld has reported gains in attendance and revenue for the second straight quarter, adding to the signs that the theme park chain is reversing its decline started after the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish.”
Since the release of that film, which criticized SeaWorld’s use of captive orcas and suggested those animals’ confinement has contributed to them injuring and killing trainers, SeaWorld Orlando’s attendance has dipped from 5.3 million in 2012 to 3.9 million last year. But those numbers have begun trending upward throughout all of SeaWorld Entertainment’s parks, with a nearly 15 percent year-over-year jump in the first quarter of 2018 and 4.8 percent increase in the second quarter.
“We believe that these results were driven primarily by our new strategic pricing strategies, new marketing and communications initiatives and the positive reception of our new rides, attractions and events,” SeaWorld’s vice president of investor relations, Matthew Stroud, told financial analysts and reporters on Monday.
Adding to the positive signs between April and June 2018 was an increase in year-over-revenue (up 4.9 percent to $18.2 million) and net income of $22.7 million, well above the $175.9 million loss the company reported in the same period in 2017.
The company credited the jumps attendance and revenue to guests spending more once they’re inside the park as well as “double-digit growth” on sales of season passes. Overall, an estimated 700,000 additional guests have come through the gates of SeaWorld parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio, as well as properties like Busch Gardens Tampa, through the first half of 2018.
Interim SeaWorld CEO John Reilly thinks the growth will continue even as its Orlando park faces steep competition in the coming years with Walt Disney World opening Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Universal Orlando likely building a third theme park.
“We are highly differentiated in the Orlando market,” Reilly said. “We’re differentiated by an irreplaceable and amazing collection of animals that provides connections that you really can’t get anywhere else in the market; rides, including what we believe is the best thrill ride collection in the market, along with family rides and attractions and world-class events.”
Reilly added that he expects SeaWorld Orlando’s Sesame Street land to open next spring, ahead of other parks’ major new attractions in 2019, and provide the same positive results experienced when similar lands opened in other parks.
On one negative note, Reilly said the company has to be better about opening new attractions ahead of the peak summer tourist rush. It missed the window with Orlando’s Infinity Falls, promoted as the world’s tallest raft ride.
“I’m disappointed with the late opening here, he said. “And we’re committed going forward in that we expect to open our ride attractions and events sooner in the season so that we can have the benefit of the summer season. We expect to announce the opening in the next few weeks for Infinity Falls.”