Report: SeaWorld attendance takes a hit, while SoCal theme parks grow

Posted at 2:30 PM, May 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-17 21:04:13-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Attendance may have dipped at one of San Diego's biggest tourist destinations, but it may not be doom and gloom for the theme park.

A new report from the Themed Entertainment Association shows Americans are heading out for fun at top parks around the U.S. The report says the country's top 20 parks saw a 2.3 percent increase overall in 2017.

In San Diego, however, the draw to get people into parks wasn't nearly as positive.

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SeaWorld San Diego had 3.1 million visitors in 2017, a 13.9 percent drop from 2016's attendance of 3.6 million. The park did report a 15 percent increase in attendance and 16 percent increase in revenue across all parks in the first quarter of 2018. The report stated:

"While 2017 was another challenging year for SeaWorld, there have been some signs in early 2018 that things may be more positive in the coming year, with first-quarter revenue and attendance up significantly versus the same period the year before. Beyond increased marketing efforts this year, which should help attendance generally, several of SeaWorld’s parks have major new rides opening, and SeaWorld is also expanding its use of the Sesame IP at a number of parks, with additional activities understood to be in the works."

SeaWorld has undergone changes aimed at appealing to families, thrill seekers, and animal safety advocates. Their recently opened Electric Eel roller coaster hopes to draw in more visitors and phasing out live orca shows was implemented to address concerns over animal care.

The question now is will those additions help?

If TEA's numbers are any indication, the battle for dollars in Southern California is a tough one.

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Disneyland's attendance jumped 2 percent from 2017 to 2016 and its neighboring California Adventure park also saw a 3 percent increase in visitors during that same time.

Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park also experienced a growth of 0.5 percent. Six Flags Magic Mountain jumped 1 percent in attendance during that time.

Legoland California's exact numbers were not in the TEA report. Merlin Entertainments Group, which owns the Legoland parks, was represented and reported a 7.8 percent attendance increase from 2017-2016.

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The report says about one-third of their attendance occurred at the group's larger parks, such as Legoland destinations:

"Clearly both Merlin Entertainments ... have developed effective strategies to attract large numbers of visitors overall to their respective attraction portfolios, but a combination of factors such as their location, focus, and scale, inhibits most of their properties from reaching levels for inclusion in the Theme Index."