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2010 will be another 'put-up-or-shut-up' year for theme parks

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Published: October 15, 2009 at 12:34 PM

A travel consultant group is forecasting that 10% fewer passengers will depart on flights from U.S. airports in 2010. And that's on top of a 9% annual decline in departures this year.

What does this mean for theme parks? Less air travel strongly correlates with a weaken economy. If businesses can't afford to send folks on the road (or, I guess, in the air), then that usually means those businesses aren't doing that well. That means fewer folks with raises and bonuses to spend on lavish family vacations.

It also means that many families will be switching from air travel to car travel... or to no travel at all. Add it all up, and it looks like another tough year for theme parks in 2010.

Obviously, the Orlando-area theme parks (Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando) are most dependent upon air travel, especially for the international visitors who crowd the parks during summers in boom years. But the Orlando parks can draw millions of visitors over the road, from the east coast and midwest of the United States.

The key, as always, is value. Expect the same story next year as this year: Parks that offer fresh new attractions and/or strong discounts will have the best chance to keep their attendance steady, or even up a bit. Parks that offer no new rides or shows and the same discounts as always - or that don't aggressively promote what they are offering via advertising and marketing - will continue to suffer declining attendance and revenue.

Readers' Opinions

From TH Creative on October 15, 2009 at 2:52 PM
Since my family is directly effected by the success of the theme park industry (specifically WDW) we have always been especially attune to the effects of the economy on the industry. My spose is a part time CM and although her annual salary never quite reaches five figures after taxes, the main gate pass (we will use all twelve admissions this year) and the discounts make an impact on our quality of life.

Having said this. while battling Mr. Clarke at this site, regarding the summer attendance of 2009, I indicated that this was not the year that WDW should be worried about. They year they should be looking at is 2010.

But there's something important to remember. Jim Hill reported that in January 2008, the Disney reservations centers sent out a RED ALERT making note of a significant drop in bookings in 2009. Enter the birthday giveaway and the deep hotel discounts.

Quite clearly the Disney folks have a long view. And certainly Universal is banking on Potter. One can only hope that Blackstone and the other park operators have a strategy for the coming year.

From Steven Lee on October 16, 2009 at 7:39 PM
I believe 2010 will be a much better year for theme parks. The economy is currently on its way to recovery with the 3rd quarter of 2009 being the first in 4 quarters that the economy actually grew.

This year we have already seen a confirmed increase in attendance at Holiday World. More than likely due to Holiday World's promoting value and a record breaking water ride. While not confirmed I also hear that Silver Dollar City has seen a large increase in attendance this year. Then on the opposite side Dollywood has confirmed with the Knoxville News Sentinel attendance so far has dropped 5% due to the economy and mostly the fact that 40% of there operating days have been affected by ran.

Next year I predict that regional theme parks will do better than this year while the larger parks stay about the same. I believe this because while people start trusting the economy more they will make small family vacations first going to parks that promote "value." When I say value I don't mean "Disney value" where you still pay $75 to enter and $14 to park! Regional parks also are offering discounts and adding rides so it is still a great experience close to home. All three of the regional parks I mentioned I believe we will see do the best next year for various reasons, but all with increasing attendance.

From Robert OGrosky on October 17, 2009 at 10:55 AM
While I hope that the parks have a good 2010, I do hope the days I visit these reports are correct so I can spend more time riding and less time in lines!!!
From 64.12.116.69 on October 17, 2009 at 12:13 PM
I'm from Tennessee, Lebanon ,right outside Nashville, Music City USA , WE HAVE NO PARKS , we need one on Interstate 840, just 20 mins. from downtown Nashville, east off interstate 40,there is alot of land off this big interstate with only the Nashville Speedway on it .

PLease Help Tenn Out !!!!!!!!!!!!!
God Bless
Debra

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