Theme Park of the Day: Disney's Animal Kingdom

Flash-forward to 2010: Which theme parks will remain alive?

February 9, 2009, 12:07 PM · We're in a little lull here just before a holiday weekend, then spring break, then the opening of the 2009 season at the regional theme parks. So now's as good a time as any to envision how the 2009 will go.

Let's focus on the finances. Everyone expects 2009 to be a brutal year for the economy. What do you envision the theme park industry will look like when the year's up, and we enter 2010?

Give us your predictions for the following questions:

  1. Will overall theme and amusement park attendance in North America be up or down in 2009, compared with 2008?
  2. Will any theme park chains go under in 2009? If so, which ones?
  3. Will any individual theme parks close for good in 2009, like Hard Rock Park did in 2008? If so, which ones?
  4. Which theme park companies will increase their market share in 2009, at the expense of its competition?

I'll post my predictions this afternoon. 'Til then, let's hear yours.

Replies (9)

February 9, 2009 at 1:54 PM · There was an article on Yahoo that said Six Flags may go under in the next year or two. Overall, Theme Park attendance has been way down and hopefully by 2010 with the many new attractions in the works (Wizarding World, DCA revamp) things will get back on track.
February 9, 2009 at 1:33 PM · Will overall theme and amusement park attendance in North America be up or down in 2009, compared with 2008?

Without a doubt attendance will be down overall, although, as many have said, I think regional attendance may see a less dramatic drop in attendance. I mean, Disney attendance alone is down 5% in the first quarter from last year, and they are doing everything in their power to prevent it (not to mention the first quarter is never exceptionally busy, anyhow). The parks that can't afford to fight back with massive promotions or new attractions will suffer even more.

Will any theme park chains go under in 2009? If so, which ones?

This one's tough, but I think it will take more than a bad year to take down a chain (at least the chains I am familiar with).

Will any individual theme parks close for good in 2009, like Hard Rock Park did in 2008? If so, which ones?

I think it's possible that Six Flags will lose a couple of smaller parks that aren't getting any new attractions this year. Elitch Gardens, for example. Also, some deals may fall through as we've seen with Busch in Dubai.

Which theme park companies will increase their market share in 2009, at the expense of its competition?

Disney, for sure. Remember in 2005 when Disney increased its market share? Disneyland attendance was up 8.5%, Magic Kingdom was up 6.5%, and the overall industry, despite drops in attendance at Universal et al., was up 4.2% at the 50 most popular North American theme parks? How did this happen? Because Disney continued to invest heavily during the lull in tourism after 9/11.

Universal and Busch may also see increased market share as they, too, are fighting this tough economy with promotions and developments. Here's hoping they all stay afloat.

February 9, 2009 at 2:08 PM · I can see actual park attendance increase over 2009, with all of the deals and promotions being offered by parks. Although I fully expect all parks to see a massive fall in profitability attendance may just increase. Lots of people will be likely to skip a vacation this year with consumer confidence destroyed and people worrying about their jobs. However, these people, especially those with kids, will most likely be looking to take some day trips over the year that represent good value for money, perfect for parks looking to boost their attendances, especially parks whose majority customer base is from the local area. I do thing hotel reservations, merchandise and food & drink sales will be down significantly however.

I don’t expect any of the major theme park chains to go under in 2009, although stranger things have happened in this economic crisis. I do expect some of the smaller theme park operators to go under due to being priced out the market by the bigger chains who are setting bargain prices that smaller operators simply can’t compete with. I will be keeping a very close eye on the value of Six Flags shares however.

As far as market share goes I think Universal may be the big winners as far as the Central Florida area goes. Universal have gone ahead with their major investment plans, such as Hollywood, Rip, Ride and Rockit, even in the face of economic meltdown. This will especially appeal to the local young-adult market who seemingly are not being catered for at WDW. Disney aren’t really looking to invest too significantly over the period, with a lot of potential projects being pushed back or scaled down (Space Mountain). This seems a bit of a strange tactic for such a huge company with such a large dominance over the market. Worldwide falls in demand means resources, especially labour, are much cheaper than they have been for many years if Disney were looking to make a serious investment this may be a prime time to do it.

February 9, 2009 at 8:23 PM · All the Orlando parks will take a hit in both attendance and profitability. The addition of Manta at SeaWorld and Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit at Universal will help things (and spill over to Disney as well), but in general 2009 will not be a banner year for Orlando.

California's Disney parks will also suffer, but they were going to suffer anyway due to the massive construction going on at DCA. I do see market share increasing at DLR though, due to the sweeping changes being made to bring California Adventure up to Disney standards. Universal Studios CA will also take a hit, but should improve once the Transformers Ride is complete.

Legoland and Sea World will feel some pain as they often profit from Disney spillover. But both parks will survive.

Six Flags has favorites in their chain, and those favorites will be okay. Some of the smaller SF parks will be hurt, but I do see them doing better with the day trip crowd as was mentioned previously. However, if SF wants to increase market share in the long run they had better focus on four things to keep 'em coming back for more: cleanliness, friendliness, quality, and value. Their parks better be spotless, their rides maintained and painted, their service top notch and customer focused, and the value for families better be plainly evident if SF wants to attract the lucrative family market (SF learned a long time ago that the teenage thrill seekers cannot spend enough to keep the company in the black). Having written all that, if SFSTL is any indication of where the company is headed, then, recession or not, they are doomed.

Cedar Fair is in a similar boat with Six Flags, in that they will benefit from (as Derek Potter puts it) "the stay-cation." I have begrudging respect for Cedar Fair because I think, in general, they build good, clean parks. And while they tend to focus too much on mega coasters and other 54" thrill rides, they do just enough to keep the whole family entertained. Anyway, I expect Cedar Fair's attendance to increase in 2009, but overall revenues will be down due to increased cuts in ticket prices, greater use of season passes inflating the attendance numbers, and diminished in-park spending by overly-cautious buyers.

Overall, I am not worried too much about Disney, Universal, or Cedar Fair. I think the Busch parks will be in troubled waters until some sort of long term solution to the InBev situation occurs. Six Flags has operated in the red for years, so they may never need to actually make money to survive. The company I think could be hurt the most is Herschend. Both Dollywood and Silver Dollar City are great parks, offering Disney quality to the budget minded. But both parks are dependent on travelers heading to Branson or Pigeon Forge for extended vacations. People may bypass those parks this year, especially since neither park is adding anything new (all projects slated for 2009 have been pushed back to 2010). Furthermore, Wild Adventures needs a lot of work to be considered a destination park, and the closing of Celebration City will hurt SDC (even though I agree that CC was a choke). For the most part, Herschend puts out a great product, but they could struggle for the next few years. I do plan on getting season passes to Silver Dollar City, so I am doing my part...but alone I am not enough.

Anyway, I've said enough. Too much for someone who really has no head for business. Although, my parks on RCT3 are always successful so I must know something!! ;)

February 9, 2009 at 5:35 PM · 1. I think overall attendence in 2009 might actually go a little bit higher for a few parks, especially Universal Orlando, as they just dragged in hundreds of thousands to their parks, and what more, thos who won will probably com,e with another person, meaning they will sell many tickets as well!

2. I don't see any chains going under (if BGC doesn't count) but I do see many of their projects either being put on hold or shelved.

3. If there are any new parks, they will probably close but the parks already up are being smart with their money.

4. I have no idea!

February 9, 2009 at 6:19 PM · Oh, boy... I REALLY don't want SFA to go... I would actually rather have it sold (to Cedar fair; they give almost all their parks equal treatment), but I don't want it to go completely out of business! Then, the next closest theme park would be KD, which is almost 2 hours away. Everything else (Hershey, Knoebels, Dorney, BGE), is from 2-3 hours away... that would suck...

Also, if the park went completely out of business (no future owners), then they would probably only get a deal with definitely S:RoS--- MOST LIKELY Batwing- if people don't mind about the down-time--- pretty likely for Roar to go--- I doubt Mind Eraser or Joker's Jinx--- I hope Wild One will get sold (keep it going!), I wouldn't like to see that get scraped...

Oh, and didn't Elitch Gardens become it's own park a little while ago?

February 9, 2009 at 7:36 PM · 1. Overall attendance will be down 6 percent from 2008.

2. No chain will go under, but I will give you 50/50 on Six Flags going Chap 11 by the end of 2009, to get out from under debt.

3. A few of the smaller Six Flags parks could be at risk for 2010, if chain can't reorganize/refinance. (Elitch's is already out of the chain, FWIW.) I worry about Sesame Place getting lost in a potential BEC sale. I also worry about California's Great Adventure. High local labor costs, no new attractions, high ad costs and competition for land often equals bad news for theme park fans. (Please, prove me wrong, guys!)

4. Disney gains most market share, followed by Universal (and possibly Merlin, if it makes the Busch deal). Regional parks without new attractions will be crunched in the market this year.

As always, take predictions with a mountain-sized grain of salt.

February 10, 2009 at 3:54 PM · Well, I hope C'sGA won't leave, because that's my cousin's home park, and I'll be visiting there in the next few years...
February 10, 2009 at 9:07 PM · I doubt that we will see any big closings in 2010. We will see some shakeups, some winners, and some losers, but everyone should survive. Here are some thoughts.

Sold Down The River- The Busch parks are surely in a period of uncertainty right now. They have a great product, a large market share, and a healthy bottom line. What will happen when they lose the support of AB? The quality of the parks will get them through the year relatively unscathed, despite a drop in tourism. Williamsburg remains a relatively inexpensive destination for families, so BGE will be ok. Manta will save the season for SeaWorld Orlando. What happens with the ownership keeps it's future in question.

Reality Check- It's Disney's turn to have one. Their numbers have been robust and inflated for a years. During that time, they created a massive resort with numerous rides, shows, hotels, restaurants, and other attractions. Money was no object, and no expense was spared in their attempt to provide the perfect theme park experience. It's the very thing that makes Disney successful that will cause problems for them. Revenue sunk last year, hotel bookings decreased. Money is now officially an object for Disney, and the cost of running the Orlando resort isn't pretty. The reality is that people will cut back on their vacation spending for a while, and Disney simply will cost too much, even with the discounts...for many. My prediction is this, Disney may find a way to keep attendance stable with discounts, but their bottom line will take a serious beating, and their market share will not increase. Look for more cuts in Mouseland, at least until people have the money to go again.

Golden Oppurtunity- Universal Orlando's Super Bowl promotion was a master stroke, and it's an example of what parks should be doing to get the people's attention. Amongst all of the potential carnage that may happen in Orlando this year, Universal is in the best position to gain market share. The new ride this year coupled with the coming soon Harry Potter attractions gives them the most potential to gain market share in the precious Orlando market, and while they do have a large property to run, it's nowhere near the cost of Disney's, and is now an object in Orlando.

Like a Rock- Like them or not, Cedar Fair knows how to run an amusement park. They use good old fashioned thrills, manage and maintain their parks well, spend their money wisely, and always provide a return to their investors. Their flagship parks, Cedar Point and Kings Island, have an almost cultlike following of fans and a huge amount of passholders. Canada's Wonderland has a virtual monopoly in the great north, and many of their parks are building new attractions for the coming year. Diamondback at Kings Island will be a huge hit, providing a boost in attendance and revenue. Prowler at Worlds of Fun will be a big crowd pleaser, and the park will benefit handsomely from the new coaster and those budget minded families who come to ride it. The mothership Cedar Point will probably break even. They don't have a new ride this year and may have some trouble with some of those hotel rooms, but the army of passholders and the regional visitors will come through for them like they always do. The staycationers..if you will James...will also visit.

No Guts, No Glory- The winner of the golden goose award for 2009 goes to Six Flags. The question is this...will they strangle her or let her lay the golden egg. Six Flags has parks in 10 of the biggest metro areas in the country...full of budget minded leisure seekers looking for a closer form of entertainment. With aggressive marketing, discounts, and an improved product, they could see a huge increase in all major categories, including market share. Time will tell if they are willing to put up the fight and reap the spoils, or if they will cut and run, duck and cover. If they do the latter, they will fall on their face, and parks like Kentucky Kingdom and The Great Escape will be in serious trouble.

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