Disney, Legoland Lure More Visitors as SeaWorld Attendance Drops

(Bloomberg) -- Attendance for the world’s top 10 theme-park operators climbed 8.6 percent last year, almost double the rate of 2016, thanks to new attractions and growth in Asia.

Visitors to parks run by industry leader Walt Disney Co. rose 6.8 percent to 150 million worldwide. Merlin Entertainments Plc, the No. 2 operator and owner of Legoland, saw attendance climb 7.8 percent to 66 million, and third-ranked Universal Studios delivered a 4.4 percent bump to 49.5 million. At SeaWorld Entertainment, which is ranked ninth among its peers and still coping with a backlash by animal activists, attendance fell 5.5 percent to 20.8 million, according to data released Thursday by the Themed Entertainment Association and consulting firm Aecom.

Theme-park operators have been reporting strong financial results due in part to economic growth worldwide and consumers’ desire to spend on travel and other unique experiences. Companies have been opening new attractions, such as Universal’s Volcano Bay water park in Orlando, Florida, which quickly rose to sixth-place worldwide among water parks with 1.5 million visitors.

Within the results other trends were evident. Disney’s Animal Kingdom resort in Orlando saw attendance jump 15 percent thanks to the new “Avatar”-themed land which opened last year. Results at the company’s other parks in Orlando were not as strong, with the flagship Magic Kingdom essentially flat at 20.5 million visitors. Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which gets a new “Toy Story”-themed addition next month and a “Star Wars” land next year, saw attendance fall slightly.

Tourism in Orlando overall was crimped by Hurricane Irma last year, which forced the closure of many parks for two days.

Visitors to Disney’s two-year-old Shanghai resort almost doubled to 11 million, although the company indicated on a recent earnings conference call that bad weather was holding back attendance this year.

Orlando has $10 billion of investments in the works, while China now accounts for a quarter of the major park operators’ overall attendance.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.