Travel Trends: Theme park attendance down, Disney remains strong

The outlook for theme parks in 2010 is quite upbeat compared to 2009. Last year, attendance slipped as the rough economy forced millions of people to stay home and snap shut their wallets.

This year, the improving economy, coupled with dozens of new attractions opening at parks around the country, is expected to pump up attendance figures at North American theme parks.

“The industry is well positioned to have a good year this year,” says Gene Jeffers, executive director at the Themed Entertainment Association. “They actually did well last year, considering the economy.”

In 2009, attendance at North America’s 20 most-visited theme parks slipped 1.1% from 2008, to 121.4 million visits, according to newly released data from the TEA.

Disney’s parks in Florida and California, however, bucked the downward trend by posting year-to-year increases.

In fact, the number 1 amusement park was Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World with just over 17.2 million visitors, up 1% from 2008.These parks are less affected by downturns in the domestic economy than many other parks since so many visitors come from overseas. Disney, and other parks, also worked hard to attract visitors with favorable pricing.

“Disney has so many resources that they can make hotel-park combo deals,” explains Jeffers. “They tried to make sure that, even in difficult times, people could come for the day and enjoy the park.”

Still, many other destination parks posted declines. The same was true for many regional parks that heavily rely on locals to lift attendance figures.

For instance, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay posted a 12.3% decline, to 4.1 million visitors. Kings Island in Ohio was down 4%, to 3 million visitors.

In 2010, the outlook for the theme park industry is good due in part the improving economy.

But another factor playing into this is that dozens of new attractions are opening this year. Among these is the 5,100-foot-long rollercoaster Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion in Virginia; the first phase of the new Luna Park Coney Island in New York City; and of course the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.

“That’s a fairly large factor in our outlook,” says Nima Samadi, industry analyst at research firm IBISWorld. He expects U.S. attendance at all theme parks to increase 2.8% over 2009, when attendance by his estimate slumped 4.6% from 2008.

“Nearly everyone has been to a theme park before,” says Samadi. “So, the parks really need to entice people with new attractions to get them to come back.”


Data source: Themed Entertainment Association

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