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2018 Theme Park Attendance Report Shows Huge Gains for SeaWorld, Disney and Universal

The Themed Entertainment Association annual attendance report for 2018 was just released! As always, it contains some fascinating insight into the theme park industry and the report breaks down attendance by country, by type of park, and also gives analysis on each industry. Let’s dive in!

Once again, Disney dominated the top 10 theme parks globally taking eight of those spots. What was most surprising is that Shanghai Disneyland took the number eight spot with a 7.3 percent increase. Based on the last Walt Disney Company conference call, Bob Iger kind of downplayed the performance of the park.

Also worth noting is how strong Chimelong Ocean Kingdom is doing in China. While the brand isn’t well known in North America, it has become huge in the East. The park got over a 10 percent bump this year to beat out Universal Studios Florida and even Disney California Adventure. This is absolutely something to keep an eye on in the future as the brand continues to expand into China.

Hong Kong Disneyland is also turning around, which is good news. The park has increased attendance of 8 percent vs 2017. This is before all of the new major attractions open up like the new Ant-Man attraction that recently opened in Tomorrowland or the new castle design which opens next year.

Focusing just on North America, not surprisingly, Disney and Universal dominate the top spots. Disney’s Animal Kingdom received a huge (and somewhat unexpected) attendance bump of 10 percent over 2017. Most likely thanks to the continued success of Avatar.

However, the real success story over the entire report (not just North America) is SeaWorld Parks. After taking a huge hit for the last five years, all of the SeaWorld parks have seen an enormous rebound in 2018. Thanks to an aggressive pricing strategy, SeaWorld San Diego saw an increase of over 20 percent! The largest out of any park on the entire report. SeaWorld Orlando got a 16 percent jump over last year as well. Not only do I think these numbers are solid, I think we will see even bigger gains in 2019. By the way, we still stand firm on the company beefing up these numbers because they are looking to sell. Oh yes, we totally believe a sale is just around the corner.

Something that is definitely worth noting is the rise of experience and adventure parks. Xcaret, located in Cancun, is an adventure park featuring zip lines, driving your own jeep through the jungle and swimming in underground caves. Guests are flocking to these unique experiences from all over the world and Xcaret just got a 25 percent jump in attendance in 2018 as a result. I’d be willing to bet anything that top theme parks companies are looking to recreate these experiences and make a man-made version somewhere in the United States, Europe or China. Mark my words, this will happen.

Getting to water parks, Disney once again takes the top spots in North America. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach have been in the top two spots for over a decade now. Volcano Bay, however, is still seeing huge gains as they took a 15 percent increase over 2017. Despite having terrible reviews, the park filled to capacity quite often after it first opened. Now thanks to its dynamic pricing, it seems to control the crowds quite well.

We will reference this list many times over the course of future articles. Many thanks to the Themed Entertainment Association for providing this annual report. It’s a huge help in understanding where the industry is headed!

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