ORLANDO, Fla. – Attendance at Disney theme parks was flat last year as it limited the number of people allowed in to improve the experience and faced tourism disruptions in Hong Kong, while visits jumped at Universal parks, driven by Harry Potter-themed rides, according to a new report released this month.
The report by the Themed Entertainment Association and the Economics Practice at AECOM said that overall attendance at the 10 biggest theme park operators in the world grew by 4% last year and climbed to 521 million visits, according to the report.
The report only looked at attendance in 2019 and didn't take into account the disruptions in the industry this year caused by the spreading coronavirus, which forced parks to close for months at a time. Parks that have reopened are operating with limits on attendance so guests can maintain social distancing. Attendance at the parks could be anywhere from a third to half of normal business volume, according to the report.
“However, it may take one to several years to return to pre-COVID operating levels, and the investment horizon of many owners may be altered due to cash flow loss," the report said.
Attendance at Disney theme parks around the world fell less than 1% in 2019 from the previous year. Disney is the largest theme park operator in the world by attendance.
Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida kept its title as the world's most visited park last year, with 20.9 million visits, a half percent increase over the previous year. It was followed by Disneyland in California with 18.6 million visits, Tokyo Disneyland with 17.9 million visits and Tokyo DisneySea. All of those parks were flat from the previous year.
The flat attendance is likely due to an effort by Disney to limit entry, while charging higher prices, so that visitors have a more enjoyable experience, though in Hong Kong, a 15% drop was the result of tourism disruptions caused by protests for political reforms, the report said.
Competing in many of the same markets as Disney, Universal Parks and Resorts had an attendance jump of 2.3%, with 51.2 million visits. Most of that growth came from Universal's Islands of Adventure in Florida where attendance grew by 6%, powered by the addition of the Harry Potter-themed steel coaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
Rides based on Harry Potter intellectual property continued to drive growth at the Universal parks, the report said.
Among domestic U.S. operators, Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. had the strongest growth, with a 7.8% jump in attendance, driven by investments in new rides.
Chinese operators grew rapidly in 2019, with attendance at parks owned by the Fantawild Group increasing by 19.8% and visits at parks owned by Oct Group growing by 9.4%.
The report noted that the theme park industry has survived disruptions in the past over health and security concerns.
“While acknowledging the serious nature and consequences of the current pandemic, history shows us that people’s behavior, with some exceptions, largely returns to normal once the threat is removed," the report said.
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