The COVID-19 pandemic caused attendance at SeaWorld Entertainment parks to drop 72 percent between 2019 and 2020, the company announced on its fourth quarter earnings call Thursday. 

While the company also reported a 69 percent drop in revenue and a net loss of $312 million, interim CEO Marc Swanson also saw bright spots in how the company pulled through 2020. Per capita revenue went up 9.6 percent, to $67.75 per visitor, with increases in both admissions per capita (nearly 13 percent) and per capita spending inside the parks (5.2 percent).

“We are successfully navigating through this extraordinary environment, and we will emerge an even stronger and more profitable enterprise,” Swanson said. 

Getting back to pre-pandemic attendance levels will depend on what happens with COVID-19 over the course of 2021.

Besides finding new efficiencies, the pandemic may lead to some permanent expansion of operations at SeaWorld that previously closed during parts of the year. SeaWorld San Antonio, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and Sesame Place in Pennsylvania are all running special events during what has typically been their off season, and Swanson hinted that the larger calendar will stay in place past the COVID era. 

“We’ve done different things like drive-thrus,  we’ve done other special events at our parks,” Swanson said. “We will continue to do these things. I do think they are sustainable, and I think, for the foreseeable future, we would plan to do these things, always with an eye towards being as efficient as possible.”

The call did not reveal much about future expansions at any existing SeaWorld parks. Swanson did not mention any of the three new coasters scheduled to open at SeaWorld parks in 2021, and in regards to the delayed Sesame Place San Diego, said only that it would be opening “in the coming years.”

But the CEO did touch on future international expansion. Swanson said the company is happy with the work on SeaWorld Abu Dhabi (set to open in 2022) and are “listening to other opportunities” outside the U.S.

“I think we’ve looked at different things,” Swanson said. “I don’t have anything, certainly to announce or talk about today, but I can tell you that there’s Abu Dhabi, there’s other markets, like China and things like that, that might make sense for us. We would evaluate those along with our board and whatnot, and see if any of those make sense.” 

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