Theme park attendance is down everywhere - except at Disneyland

August 4, 2009, 4:15 PM · Most of the major theme park companies have released their second quarter revenue reports, so we've gotten a picture showing how attendance is holding up at the nation's theme parks during the first half of the year.

And... it isn't. As many feared, attendance is tanking at theme parks across the country, with one notable exception. What's worse, Easter fell during the second quarter this year, pushing results higher than they would have been, if you can believe it.

So who's doing okay? Disney, specifically Disneyland, where attendance was up 2 percent over the same period last year, thanks to Disney's get-in-free-on-your-birthday promotion, as well as annual and multi-day pass deals.

Overall, attendance at Disney was flat, with gate counts down just 1 percent at Walt Disney World. But even as attendance held up, revenue and profit tanked, as the free days and free meals Disney used to lure visitors meant that the folks who did show up in the parks were spending far less than visitors last year.

Here are the second quarter results, by company:

Attendance: Flat (Up 2% at Disneyland, down 1% at Walt Disney World)
Revenue: Down 9%
Profit: Down 19%

Attendance: Down at least 10%
Profit: Up 13% (Universal cited cost cutting to help create the profit.)

Six Flags:
Attendance: Down 8%, from 8 million last year
Revenue: Down 13% to $302 million
Profit: A loss of $98.6 million, compared with profit of $113.5 million last year.
Per person spending: Down 4% to $36.70 per visitor.

Cedar Fair:
Attendance: Down 13%, from 7.6 million to 6.6 million
Revenue: Down 11%, to $264 million
Profit: Down 50%
Per person spending: Down 2% to $39.50 per visitor.

I haven't found any data on the Busch theme parks, since Anheuser-Busch is now part of the Belgian company Anheuser-Busch InBev. If anyone from Busch Entertainment Corp. wants to share some data, you know where to get in touch. :-)

Replies (10)

August 4, 2009 at 5:16 PM · Universal with a profit eh. Good for them because it seems quite a few people around here were writing them off as in deep trouble. Cost cutting was part of it, but how were their discounts? I know they had a hotel deal for a while, but it wasn't as generous as Disney's. They gave away a bunch of tickets on Super Bowl Sunday, but did they discount anywhere else? The profit could also be a result of Universal sticking a little closer to their non panic mode pricing model. Attendance is down, but how is that spending per guest?

I'm surprised at the chains. I figured that Cedar Fair would have better numbers than that. It could also be a regional thing...meaning some parks could really be bringing down the numbers. The same may be said for Six Flags. Some areas are harder hit with the recession than others, and I'm sure some of these parks are taking a beating. Who knows with Six Flags though. They've been advertising a pay kids price promotion heavily in some markets.

August 4, 2009 at 5:59 PM · I think it is not spurious that Disney's been blanketing the Internet with ads all year, and they have the best attendance performance. Six Flags and Cedar Fair are doing no out-of-market national ads, so they're limited to what they can get in their local markets. Universal blitzed with the Super Bowl TV ad, but I've seen little from them in recent months. Busch has had smaller national ads, but no big graphical presence

If you want to attract visitors in a brutal economy, you *have* to promote. Offering discounts is not enough. You have to beat people over the heads with information about those deals. And you have to do it where they make their decisions - online. (Yeah, I run a website, so I'm biased toward this medium, but that's still the reality about travel booking today.)

Universal's in a tricky spot this year. The new coaster didn't pan out when they needed it, and at this point, people are going to wait until Harry Potter is open. So I can give them a bit of a pass.

Busch should be going great guns on ads and promotions, but I'm just not seeing it. Ads in the older-skewing AAA magazine don't cut it anymore. Same for Six Flags. Cedar Fair has no national brand, so they're in a tough spot trying to gain lucrative out-of-market visitors.

August 5, 2009 at 7:34 AM · Well I'm sure that Six Flags has been hurt a lot by the weather in the east coast. Six Flags Great Adventure in NJ has been hit practically every day in June with a storm and much of July as well. I bet they rely heavily on the success of that park as that seemed to be the only one that they weren't willing to sell.
August 5, 2009 at 12:03 PM · Weather is a factor it seems with SFGA in which we have not had the greatest weather (cool and sometimes rainy) and the park has been EMPTY. Its a real shame, but it seems that people will go to the FL chains (Universal, Busch, Disney) no matter what the weather shows. Six Flags has to figure that.

I also think the "free on your birthday" and other celebration thing was smart marketing on Disney's part since its a special that is not really costing them much money. It seems like the "celebrate" success is cheap for Disney, but gives big emotional impact for the guests. I was skeptical at first, but it seems that their odd ads are working.

For it all, the economy is not great. It seems that it could have been much worse.

August 5, 2009 at 12:06 PM · Sorry, the SFGA thing was me! I forgot to log in!

I am suprised that the average cost per person spending at Six Flags is so low. The figure given is pretty much the cost to get in. Aren't people eating? Parking? Flashpassing? Buying Pictures/Souvineers?

August 5, 2009 at 4:28 PM · Eating at a Six Flags park?! HA HA HA!! That takes courage, not cash!
August 5, 2009 at 9:06 PM · ^^That was me. Sorry, I forgot to log in...and I just couldn't resist the chance to kick Six Flags when it is down! ;)

In reality, though, I sincerely hope for the best for all these companies as the summer winds down. Who knows, maybe by next summer this economy will turn around and all these chains will be talking about big attendance and profit gains instead of losses!

(That's me looking at the world through rose colored glasses again!)

August 5, 2009 at 9:49 PM · I've been vacationed out since returning from our 11-day trip to Orlando. Here are my thoughts.

Had an absolute blast. The weather was CRAZY hot. Parks were as packed as they were when we went in 2006. We had the FastPast system down to a T so we never waited long for anything.

When we arrived around 10am to check-in, the lobby was PACKED. We did the online check-in, however, so we had a different line AND they had a room available for us which nice since we took a red eye. I asked the cast member if something special was going on at the World and she said no, but all their rooms were sold out that weekend. I knew we'd be in for packed crowds.

Universal had its moments. We got to the park at opening and there were quite a few people already there. We had front of the line passes but rode stuff the first hour with no wait. By the time 10 o'clock came around, the park was packed. It was so hot, the worse waits were for the water rides. Front of the line definitely came in handy there. Towards the end of the day (5-ish), got hit with two awful rain storms. We got off the water rides and got soaked additionally from the rain storms. Talk about being water logged, BUT IT FELT GREAT. Same thing happened at Busch Gardens. Definitely did not put a damper on our trip, however.

All this to say that if attendance is down, we sure as heck didn't see it. We made sure to hit the parks early at opening, hit the must sees early and got out of that sun. Then went back to the parks later in the evening and back to the hotel before parks closed. Every park we visited was packed.

August 6, 2009 at 10:26 AM · One thing some people seem to miss is the fact that there are multiple parks in the Orlando area. If I were planing a vacation destination, and paying quite a bit to get there, I am going to go somewhere where there are multiple places to visit. I think this is a big key success for the FL parks.
August 6, 2009 at 11:06 AM · My friend and I helped cedar fair by going to KD yesterday, and spending... around $80. we're stupid, all right?

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive