2018 may have been SeaWorld’s comeback year, but 2019 proved to be even better financially, according to the company’s latest earnings report.

But before taking questions from investors, SeaWorld CEO Serge Rivera felt compelled to address something else: the ongoing outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. 

“What I can tell you today is, we have seen no discernible impact on our attendance related to coronavirus,” Rivera said. “We are obviously very aware of and monitoring the situation.”

That didn’t stop one analyst from asking Rivera what prior experiences could inform the theme park chain’s response to the outbreak. 

“Look, I think the best thing is to – for us to be prudent and responsible and not speculate. But have we seen things like coronavirus in the past? The obvious answer is yes,” Rivera said. “We’ve seen SARS, we see the flu. We have – we see a lot of exogenous events impact us earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, things of that nature. What we can say to your question is in the past, we have seen nothing that has truly impacted the business in a significantly negative way. But, again, I don’t think we should draw parallels between things in the past and what coronavirus presents today.”

No cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Florida, though rampant misinformation has raised public anxiety about the new virus. 

As of Wednesday, there were 58 confirmed cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization has reported that the vast majority of cases— 78,191 out of 81,109 worldwide — are in China. 

Unlike Disney, whose two Chinese theme parks have been closed for a month due to the outbreak, Rivera said SeaWorld’s exposure to Chinese customers is minimal. 

“China is not as a significant part of our business,” he said. 

As for the company’s financials, SeaWorld reported that its net income nearly doubled in 2019 to a record $89.7 million. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) increased by almost 14 percent to $456.9 million, another record.

Attendance, however, was up only 0.2 percent over the year across all SeaWorld-owned parks. The company did see a 2.2 percent attendance increase in the fourth quarter of 2019 after seeing a slight dip earlier in the year. 

Looking ahead to the coming year, Rivera hyped the roller coasters SeaWorld is adding at five of its parks, including Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando and Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

“This is the first time in our history, we have a major roller coaster opening in each of our five largest theme parks in the same year, and all of these coasters are truly world-class coasters,” he said. “Equally as important, all of our rides and attractions are scheduled to open before the peak summer season.”

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