Disney theme parks lead in 2008 annual attendance report

April 16, 2009, 9:23 AM · You can view the full 2008 Themed Entertainment Association/Economics Research Associate's Attraction Attendance Report here.

The North American top 20 is largely unchanged except for Canada's Wonderland, which experienced a big upswing due to the addition of their new coaster. However, a new coaster did not help Hersheypark as it experienced a 4% decrease despite the addition of Fahrenheit in 2008.

Busch parks experienced drops across the board, probably related in no small part to the InBev takeover and some animosity to what some folks view as Busch selling out. (Just my opinion).

Cedar Fair and Six Flags experienced some moderate upswings due to additional attractions (Dark Knight coaster at Six Flags) and lowered admission prices (at Cedar Fair).

Disney ruled the roost once again, dominating all markets and bringing in more visitors than virtually all other theme park chains combined. However, their dismal showing at Hong Kong DL should be cause for concern.

Universal experienced attendance downturns largely due to construction at their Orlando destinations and people holding off on vacations until the new rides/lands are complete.

One interesting note: most of the attendance declines occurred after the regional parks had closed for the 2008 season, leaving the destination parks to deal with the faltering economy and therefore taking the brunt of the hit. One member of the reviewing board seems to think that the declines will continue across the board in 2009, with a potential for increases again in 2010.


Replies (14)

April 16, 2009 at 9:41 AM · I hope lots of people continue to be upset over AB selling out to InBev so there will be fewer people in line in front of me at BGE.
April 16, 2009 at 9:55 AM · Yeah, the economic troubles should be gauged this year due to many of the Northern parks(mostly Six Flags) being closed down for the season.
April 16, 2009 at 11:20 AM · I should clarify one statement I made about the dismal showing at Hong Kong Disneyland. Attendance was actually up at the park this past year by almost 8%, but with only 4 million visitors, it is by far the worst performing Disney park. Furthermore it is the only Magic Kingdom that is not the #1 attended theme park in its region. And lastly, the recent layoffs in the HKDL operation have pretty much killed the expansion plans that might have made the park more viable.

So again, while attendance was up in HKDL, the outlook is not good.

April 16, 2009 at 12:37 PM · Mr. Rao may well be correct! It might be awhile before HKDL sees substantial expansion:

Orlando Business Journal - march 2009 - A dispute between The Walt Disney Co. and the Hong Kong government has put any talk of expanding Hong Kong Disneyland on hold, and about 30 Walt Disney Imagineers that have been working on the design of the expansion have been laid off, according to media reports.

According to the reports, Hong Kong officials were "puzzled" by the decision to lay off Imagineers, according to an e-mailed statement.

Disney and Hong Kong are apparently at an impasse in regards to financing any expansion, the report said. Hong Kong owns a 57 percent stake in the park, with Disney (NYSE: DIS) owning the other 43 percent.

Expanding the park is seen as crucial to the park's future, as it is the smallest of any Disney park worldwide. Talk of expansion first surfaced in December 2008.

April 16, 2009 at 12:40 PM · No surprises here...Disney dominating the market as always with the top 5 theme parks in America and top 8 worldwide, as well as the top 2 waterparks worldwide and domestic :)

I am actually surprised that DHS only improved by 1%, with the debuts of Toy Story Mania, Block Party Bash, HSM 3, and others (the report mentioned American Idol, but that didnt open til 2009)

Im also happy for my former hometown park, Canada's Wonderland! nice to see that it had the biggest attendance rise in NA!

I also wonder if the relatively poor performance of HK Disneyland will affect Disney's plans for a new park in Shanghai....

April 16, 2009 at 12:51 PM · Orlando may see some decline, but not necessarily the seasonal parks. Some parks stand to see gains this year from people staying close to home. The economy did tank in the last half of the year, but remember that $4.00 gas during the summer? Didn't help things either.

I expect Kings Island to do very well this year. They have a strong customer/passholder base, an excellent kids area, and a brand new B&M coaster that park fans have been wanting for a long time. Despite the crappy economic conditions in Ohio, I also expect Cedar Point will hold strong. The Busch parks are in danger of the bottom-line minded InBev, who have already begun removing some favorite Busch/Seaworld offerings. A new coaster at SeaWorld Orlando will help. Six Flags has the most potential, as their immediate markets are the largest. With aggressive pricing and marketing along with improved guest experience, attendance could explode.

If tourism in Orlando holds up, I expect to see Universal get some of that market share back. The new attractions will help in that area. Disney will hold flat because of their heavy discounting...as long as people feel like ponying up.

I don't forsee doom and gloom for the industry this year, but this year won't be without it's problems. Some parks will lose some revenue, even if attendance is ok.

April 16, 2009 at 1:36 PM · Got a chance to finally look at the numbers and they ain't bad! Sure some saw dips, but still pretty solid by Disney and Universal. Great to see SFGA holding its own with a net gain!
April 16, 2009 at 1:38 PM · Thank you for the coverage! - Judy Rubin, TEA publications editor.
April 16, 2009 at 2:27 PM · I see the list on the right sidebar has now been changed to "*By 2008 attendance". However, it seems that Busch Gardens Europe should be below Cedar Point and Kings Island in accordance with the report.
April 16, 2009 at 2:53 PM · Order on the right rail should be fixed now. I've been having the hardest time with tech stuff and connections today, so it was half-done there for a while. Sorry about that.
April 16, 2009 at 3:47 PM · I just don't get how SF Magic Mountain does not perform better in attendance. With, by my count, 16 coasters (including the upcoming Terminator GCI), and another rumored to be on the way for 2010, it will soon become the Coaster Capital Of The World, sharing the crown with Cedar Point (unless they add a new coaster in the next year or two). It has a lot of rides, it has a great location, it has a huge population, and it has the potential of spillover from Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, and Knott's. Apparently they've cleaned the place up, improved the experience, lowered the prices, and added family-friendly and kid-friendly attractions. So where are the people?

When I lived in California, back in the 70's, we used to go to Magic Mountain all the time. I mean we loved Disney and all, but MM was closer and cheaper and we went about twice as much as we went to Disney.

What's the problem?

Robert, you frequent MM - any ideas?

April 16, 2009 at 8:35 PM · Whew! Canada's Wonderland movin' on up. Good for Cedar Fair for investing in Behemoth - guess it paid off.
April 17, 2009 at 5:08 AM · BGE used to be a great park to visit. We've lived in the Norfolk area for two different three-year periods (total of six years), and we had season passes every year. However, a few years ago, we came down from our permanent home in Pennsylvania to visit the park, only to have it close down for rain two of the three days we had passes for. Although one of those days the rain quit in the afternoon and we tried to visit the park, it was closed and we couldn't get in.

Feeling like we were entitled to another pass to compensate for their being closed, we contacted the park after we got back home to ask for a rain check. That began a ridiculous runaround with BGE management that culminated months later with them saying we could come down and contact them when we got to the park entrance for a replacement pass. However, suffice it to say (to keep the story short) that we didn't have much confidence in their intentions or ability to do that, so rather than drive down and take our chances, we "passed" on the pass. We haven't been back since.

My point here is that if this incident is any indication of how BGE is run now, it's no wonder that at least this park's attendance is down, and it has nothing to do with beer.

April 17, 2009 at 7:25 AM · Seems the AB parks aren't happy and claim to have had over 1 million more guests than that report shows, but won't release exact figures. Hmmm!!!

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