Disney remains atop global theme park attendance report

May 17, 2018, 5:51 AM · The 2017 TEA/AECOM Theme Index theme park attendance report is out. Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom remains the world's most visited theme park, with more than 20 million annual visitors. But the big growth was among Chinese theme parks, with Oct Parks China, Fantawild, and Chimelong Group all posting double-digit increases to cement their places among the top 10 theme park chains in the world.

"The industry resumed its historic pace of growth in 2017," John Robinett, Senior Vice President, Americas, AECOM, said in a press release. "Major theme park operators had an outstanding year with significant overall growth led largely by properties in China."

"The Chinese market has responded enthusiastically to high-quality theme park offerings, as demonstrated by the success of the Chimelong parks and of Shanghai Disneyland in its first full year of operation, with Universal Beijing on the horizon," Chris Yoshii, Vice President, Asia-Pacific, AECOM, said in the statement.

Among U.S. parks, Disney's Animal Kingdom and Universal Studios Hollywood posted the biggest attendance gains in 2017, with Animal Kingdom driven by the new Pandora: The World of Avatar land and USH enjoying the continued success of the park's recent expansion, including the first full year of operation of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

But the SeaWorld parks continued their slide, with Knott's Berry Farm taking SeaWorld Orlando's traditional spot at number 10 — the nation's largest non-Disney, non-Universal theme park. SeaWorld San Diego now trails Six Flags Magic Mountain along with Knott's and the Disney and Universal parks in the Southern California market. Busch Gardens Tampa posted the next-largest drop in 2017, showing that the problem at SeaWorld lies with the chain, not the brand.

The only other North American park to show a decrease in 2017 was Disney's Hollywood Studios... because construction. Meanwhile, rival Universal Studios Florida cracked the 10 million threshold for the first time.

As for water parks, Universal's Volcano Bay attracted 1.5 million visitors in its first, partial year of operation, placing it sixth worldwide and third in the United States, trailing the Disney water parks but coming in ahead of SeaWorld Orlando's Aquatica. That park suffered a 10% attendance drop, and Disney's Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach also saw losses, so it appears that Volcano Bay may have cannibalized a good chunk of the market for Orlando water parks.

Global Top 20:
Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom, 20,450,000, 0.3%
Disneyland, 18,300,000, 2.0%
Tokyo Disneyland, 16,600,000, 0.4%
Universal Studios Japan, 14,935,000, 3.0%
Tokyo DisneySea, 13,500,000, 0.3%
Disney's Animal Kingdom, 12,500,000, 15.3%
Epcot, 12,200,000, 4.2%
Shanghai Disneyland, 11,000,000, (partial year in 2016)
Disney's Hollywood Studios, 10,722,000, -0.5%
Universal Studios Florida, 10,198,000, 2.0%
Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, 9,788,000, 15.5%
Disneyland Paris, 9,660,000, 15.0%
Disney California Adventure, 9,574,000, 3.0%
Islands of Adventure, 9,549,000, 2.0%
Universal Studios Hollywood, 9,056,00, 12.0%
Lotte World, 6,714,000, -17.6%
Everland, 6,310,000, -9.5%
Hong Kong Disneyland, 6,200,000, 1.6%
Nagashima Spa Land, 5,930,000, 1.6%
Ocean Park, 5,800,000, -3.3%

And the North America Top 20:
Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom
Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Universal Studios Florida
Disney California Adventure
Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios Hollywood
Knott's Berry Farm, 4.03 million
SeaWorld Orlando, 3.96 million
Busch Gardens Tampa, 3.96 million
Canada's Wonderland, 3.76 million
Cedar Point, 3.60 million
Kings Island, 3.47 million
Six Flags Magic Mountain, 3.37 million
Hersheypark, 3.30 milion
Six Flags Great Adventure, 3.24 million
SeaWorld San Diego, 3.10 million
Six Flags Great America, 3.04 million

Meanwhile, none of the theme parks in the Middle East made it on to the EMEA region's top 20 theme parks list, once again, meaning that all of the parks in the United Arab Emirates drew fewer visitors than Heide Park's 1.48 million in 2017, as the German park took the last spot on the European and Middle East region's list. A UAE waterpark topped the region, however, with Aquaventure at 1.35 million visitors, though all three UAE parks in the EMEA top 10 posted attendance declines last year.

You can view the entire report on the TEA's website. [PDF file]

Previous theme park attendance reports:

Replies (38)

May 17, 2018 at 6:35 AM

Looks like the big winners are...

Animal Kingdom - rose 15% and Pandora opened mid-year, so that seems pretty good?

Shanghai Disneyland - the % change doesn't matter because it kicked off in the middle of 2016, but the fact that it drew higher attendance than DHS and USO is impressive

Hollywood Studios - I guess it's a winner in that attendance only dropped .5% despite how few attractions there are? Disney's lucky so many people just go to all the parks when they visit. It'll be fascinating to see how high DHS climbs over the next two years though. Will it crack the top 3 or 4?

Big losers...

Both SeaWorld Florida and SeaWorld California dropped double digits. Yikes. This in a year when the top 25 theme parks rose by an average of 4.7%. Yikes again.

May 17, 2018 at 6:52 AM

So the combined average daily attendance of the four WDW parks listed is estimated at more than 153,000.

May 17, 2018 at 9:12 AM

"Hollywood Studios - I guess it's a winner in that attendance only dropped .5% despite how few attractions there are? Disney's lucky so many people just go to all the parks when they visit. It'll be fascinating to see how high DHS climbs over the next two years though. Will it crack the top 3 or 4?"

This is a very interesting number, and makes you wonder why WDW continues to drag its feet on building a 5th theme park. If DHS can hold level while shrinking its offerings, presumably because guests go to WDW and visit all 4 parks regardless, what does that say about the prospects of a 5th park, and the potential effect on other Orlando-Area parks (assuming finite vacation days). Is Disney concerned about undercutting it's own products? The DHS data seems to indicate that it doesn't undercut itself very much, at least not substantially.

Not only was Sea World down, but Busch Gardens Tampa dropped 5% as well. BGT didn't open a major new attraction in 2017, but appears to be getting dragged down with the decline of Sea World. They aren't opening anything new in 2018 either, so they may drop even further in next year's report. However, I have heard through investor calls and corporate earnings reports that the Sea World parks have significantly increased the guest percap spending (a measurement of how much each individual guest spends every time they walk through the gates). Executives have noted that while Sea World attendance declined in 2017, the percap increased enough to cover all of the losses from the drop.

May 17, 2018 at 9:11 AM

Tweet stream:

May 17, 2018 at 9:28 AM

"Determining attendance numbers in a market with rampant park-hopping, without double-counting people, is tough."

I completely disagree. Double-counting is a farce. If a guest walks through a gate, they should be counted. If they walk through 4 theme park gates in a single day, that visit should count towards all 4 parks (after all most guests pay a premium for the privilege of going to multiple parks in a single day). For comparison, the same TEA/AECOM report (full disclosure, I work for AECOM, but not in the division that prepares this report) also provides attendance data for museums. Visitors can conceivably visit multiple museums in close proximity with little trouble, but each individual visit is counted independently. For instance, I can walk to the Smithsonian Air and Space, Natural History, American History, National Gallery of Art, and Holocaust Museum all in a single day, and thoroughly enjoy each museum - maybe not completely (honestly you couldn't see everything in any one of these museums in a single day), but at least a handful of galleries in each. It's a little different when the museums are free like the Smithsonian, but when we were in NYC last year, we toured the Natural History Museum and Met on the same day (opposite sides of Central Park), but undoubtedly were counted on both museum's admission totals for the day.

The same goes for theme parks, and whether someone visits 4 theme parks in an 18-hour day or spends just 30 minutes in a single park (as a season pass holder to ride something on their lunch break), they should count the same here. However, it does say something that the individual companies are hesitant to publicly release the real data. Why?? What is served by keeping the real numbers behind this shroud of secrecy? Does it really matter if the park had 4,455,989 or 4,456,000 visitors? Who benefits from hiding the raw numbers?

May 17, 2018 at 9:23 AM

There's no question there are problems with the chain, but with both SeaWorld parks turning double-digit declines compared with 5 percent for Busch Gardens Tampa, I'm not sure I would conclude that there isn't also a problem with the SeaWorld brand.

What's particularly interesting about the Orlando water park numbers is that Wet 'N Wild's 1.3M guests from the 2016 report are now completely taken out of the equation for the entire year and Volcano Bay was only open for half the year, and the remaining three water parks still all saw declines. Imagine if Volcano Bay had been open the whole year. Robert's point about cannibalization is well taken.

May 17, 2018 at 9:36 AM

If they don't have access to the real numbers, how do they come up with these numbers at all? Does someone stand outside the gate with a counter in their hand?

May 17, 2018 at 10:46 AM

The contribution that 'Flight of Passage' has made to Disney Animal Kingdom's estimated numbers could be regarded as "Potteresque." In 2010, TEA reported that Islands of Adventure's attendance jumped from 4,500,000 (in 2009) to 5,950,000 -- an increase of 1,450,000 guests. This years estimates has Disney Animal Kingdom's attendance rising from 10,844,000 to 12,500,000 -- an increase of 1,650,000.

May 17, 2018 at 11:38 AM

But I thought PtWoA was "Hamiltonian"?

Hamiltonian = 15.3%
Potteresque = 30.2%

I would also note the Broadway comparison TH loves to make is also being squashed by the boy wizard as tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Part 1 and 2 - shown on consecutive nights) are as difficult to get this summer and fall as Hamilton was in 2015, and every bit as expensive.

May 17, 2018 at 11:10 AM

DHS slightly declined by half a percent. This merely means the other boats are holding DHS higher, but it doesn't deserve it. This will all change in another year.

WDW has lots of untapped potential. They aren't close to opening a 5th park. Remember, they didn't do anything for years. They starved their parks so why even bother with building the 5th park.

Disney stock is still flat.

May 17, 2018 at 11:37 AM

Disney stock is flat because of their debt (which they're about to double with the Fox acquisition), and has little to do with the success of the theme park division right now.

My point regarding DHS was just what you note - "other boats are holding DHS higher", meaning that a 4th park that isn't even worth visiting gets a token visit from virtually every guest to WDW simply because it's there. A 5th park, even if it's full of clones and mediocre attractions (combined with DHS that will be "must visit" after Galaxy's Edge opens), would similarly be lifted up by the success of the resort as a whole. That's the only way WDW is really going to grow aggressively. As evidenced by PtWoA, even the addition of a landmark attraction/land is only going to grow WDW 3-5% overall (though Star Wars may have a more profound effect if Disney can actually stuff enough people into the undersized DHS). Simply shifting guests from one park to another as the entire resort grows 3-5% overall isn't going to cut it. Only a 5th park is going to grow the resort as a whole, and the fact that DHS can tread water despite downsizing is evidence that the resort is mature enough to support another gate, and is almost in desperate need of one based on individual park crowd levels and growing guest frustration.

May 17, 2018 at 12:28 PM

Sorry forgot to log in.

May 17, 2018 at 12:44 PM

You're probably right that the argument for the 5th Park comes right after DHS gets Star Wars Land and Epcot gets Ratatouille and Guardians. Each park becomes a must go. Then a 5th Park is needed to drive growth. But why not buy out SeaWorld. The SeaWorld Parks are underperforming. They have a good slate of attractions that are languishing in the tough Orlando and Southern California markets. All they need is a few Disney E-Tickets and they'll be revitalized as Disney's Nemo theme parks. The Orca issue resolves itself since Disney can easily ship them away to a sanctuary like the new SeaWorld park in China that's in a private island. Sell the trademark and any park it doesn't want, but Disney might have strategic reasons to keep SeaWorld San Antonio. First, it's a Disney park in Texas. Second, Disney has cruise ships in Galveston. Then 1 + 1 = 2 plus synergy.

May 17, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Why would Disney want a park in Orlando disconnected from its current property (that has more than enough room to grow for the next century)?

Do you know how far Galveston is from San Antonio?? That's a 4+ hour drive on a good day - not really feasible to combine a theme park/cruise experience.

Buying Sea World would be a terrible move for Disney.

May 17, 2018 at 1:19 PM

AngryDuck wrote: "If they don't have access to the real numbers, how do they come up with these numbers at all? Does someone stand outside the gate with a counter in their hand?"


May 17, 2018 at 1:51 PM

Thoughts for this year...

-Even though DAK increased 15%, the entire WDW property saw an increase of less than 4%. To me, this seems to indicate less that Pandora convinced people to visit WDW who wouldn't otherwise and more that it convinced visitors who were already planning a trip to spend more time at DAK (possibly at the expense of time at DHS).
-If Shanghai Disneyland is pulling in 11 million visitors in its second year, I find it hard to see how anyone could insist it's a failure. That number is only 25% less than what the well-established Paris resort sees, and that resort has two theme parks.
-Speaking of Disneyland Paris, there was a surprising amount of growth there this year. I think that one will be interesting to watch going forward, especially as Walt Disney Studios is completely overhauled.
-I'm guessing USH's growth was largely due to visitors who waited until after the initial Potter rush died down to get a pass. I fully expect this park to flatline or even decline in the 2018 report.
-Glad to see Knott's Berry Farm jump into the US top ten. It seems their strategy of trying to attract locals who can't afford Disney and day trips from tourists who come to visit Disney is working really well. I'm curious to see what kind of bump HangTime produces...it's the first major coaster they've added in 14 years.
-SeaWorld is dying. I'm hopeful the change in leadership can produce results, but the parks need to try something new, and they need to act fast. Stock coasters and lackluster "dark" rides aren't going to cut it in the competitive markets the parks operate in.
-I'm really curious to see SFMM's 2018 numbers now that they are open 365 days. It will be interesting to see if that actually attracts more visitors or just spreads the crowd out. Also of note, SFGAm had a bigger attendance boost with a small stock coaster than SFGAdv or SFMM had with Justice League dark rides.
-Surprised that almost all of the waterparks took an attendance hit this year. I wouldn't be surprised if separate gate waterparks are losing popularity since so many regional theme parks now include a waterpark with the admission ticket.
-It looks like China is a pretty good place for new theme park development right now. The rest of Asia, however...not so much.

May 18, 2018 at 8:47 AM

TH Creative said "The contribution that 'Flight of Passage' has made to Disney Animal Kingdom's estimated numbers could be regarded as "Potteresque." "

Nothing about Pandora could be described as "Potteresque". It doesn't have the brand power or staying power, for one, and it doesn't drive people to the parks just for it.

I do like FOP and Pandora, but you blow this horn all too often. The fact that you have to keep using Potter as a yardstick should show you how lost that battle is.

May 17, 2018 at 5:35 PM

Are the numbers for Disneyland Paris considered strong?

What caused the uptick there? I know the WDSP is undergoing a revamp, but did DLP add any new attractions?

May 17, 2018 at 9:20 PM

you didn't mention disneyland paris, with a 15 percent increase. wow!! the full disney takeover had not been complete in 2017 for these stats, right?

May 17, 2018 at 9:31 PM

AJ. USH's growth is likely attributed to the fact that sell inexpensive 9 month passes (139 for students or for someone in some other universal affinity status),. And. they have a lot of dates that are available for that price (Summer) that is blocked out on the disney 289 dollar pass. Although, the USH pass is only 9 months, so it does kind of include a de facto 3 month blackout because you have to buy the pass more often.

May 18, 2018 at 1:55 AM

yeah Im pleased DLP has grown, its looking great after the few years refurb, and now the long term plas to improve the Studios just need to happen asap

May 18, 2018 at 3:12 AM

2017 at DLP was the start of the 25th anniversary campaign and the opening of Star Tours: TAC and Hyperspace Mountain, all of which no doubt helped push numbers there.

But I suspect the increase in numbers had more to do with the fact that 2016 saw a significant drop, at least partly due to the terrorist attacks in Paris at the end of 2015. (And further attacks elsewhere in France throughout 2016.) So 2017 can be seen as a return to the "new normal" for DLP of hovering around the 10 million mark.

The expansion of WDS will hopefully boost the castle park, and there's rumours at the moment of an Indiana Jones Adventure finally being fastracked for Adventureland, after decades of will-they-won't-they. But neither of those will take effect for at least a couple of years. It'll be interesting to see next year if the Marvel summer at WDS helps numbers at the resort, or just cannibalizes the castle park.

May 18, 2018 at 6:13 AM

DB Cooper: "Nothing about Pandora could be described as "Potteresque".

I Respond: I was comparing the jump in terms of number of guests from the previous year to this year -- which were pretty close. I made no other claim about any aspect of the two franchises being comparable.

So ...

May 18, 2018 at 6:14 AM

I'm also confused about why we're suddenly comparing Broadway shows on this thread.

But ... carry on, I guess.

May 18, 2018 at 6:14 AM

I'm also confused about why we're suddenly comparing Broadway shows on this thread.

But ... carry on, I guess.

May 18, 2018 at 7:42 AM

@TH - But the increase in the number of guests is a pretty worthless number in this context. It's the percentage increase year over year that is most meaningful, which is where PtWoA falls well short of WWoHP. If you want to cite unrelated numbers to compare the 2, go right ahead, but it's definitely hyperbole to call the impact of PtWoA as "Potteresque". I'd also note AJ's point that PtWoA didn't really have a dramatic impact on the WDW resort as a whole with an overall increase of just 3.8% across all of WDW. So WDW grew at a comparably steady rate year over year, while guests shifted a day to visit PtWoA - not even close to the impact of Potter, which brought double digit attendance growth across the entire UO Resort for both the Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley installations. The growth has been so profound at UO that by 2020 they will have doubled the number of hotel rooms at the resort. PtWoA is a minor temblor compared to the 8.0 earthquake that WWoHP has been that not only impacted UO, but has sent shock waves and influenced every other theme park in the world.

"I'm also confused about why we're suddenly comparing Broadway shows on this thread."

This coming from the person who first started comparing a theme park land to a Broadway show and keeps referring to a shopping mall as a theme park. You're a riot TH.

May 18, 2018 at 12:45 PM

I made the unqualified comparison between the opening of The WWOHP and PTWOA by pointing out that the attractions apparently attracted a similar number of guests. I propose that this “could be” regarded as “Potteresque” — build a groundbreaking e-ticket attraction at a major Orlando theme park, expect another 1.5 million people to show up. I never contended that DAK’s expansion was more successful than IOA’s.

As for the Broadway thing, I don’t understand why we’re comparing the business models of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ and ‘Hamilton’. I have no doubt thaat the new play drawn from the Potter series will be a rousing success.

As for Mr. Meyer’s aside regarding DSTP, I will withhold comment. There was a point during discussions on that topic where Mr. Meyer declared he would “not allow” me to advance the proposition. As he seems dedicated to the cause of pouncing on anything I post on this site, I do not want to upset him as I did on that occasion.

Stand by for Mr. Meyer’s inevitable, almost reflexive leap to grab the last word — in five, four, three ....

May 18, 2018 at 1:49 PM

...two, one

Again with the faulty logic TH. I guess you can always fall back on the old adage of there are 3 types of lies, "lies, damned lies, and statistics", but there's no comparison here. Improvements, in the real world, are measured in percent growth, not flat numbers, especially when comparing two things on different scales. It's like comparing the growth of Apple versus "Al's Air Conditioning". Apple growing $1.5 million would cause panic selling on Wall Street, while "Al's" growing $1.5 million would triple the size of the company. Looking at the flat attendance growth of parks is meaningless unless they are of similar size, which IOA circa 2010 and DAK circa 2017 are most certainly not. So no, TH, PtWoA is NOT Potteresque, and trying to compare flat year over year attendance gains is a twisting of the facts. Remind me not to call you for financial advice.

Did I mention or compare business models for theater productions? I merely injected some facts regarding a recent Broadway production into a theme park discussion, which you didn't seem to have a problem doing for well over a year leading up to PtWoA's debut.

Honestly, if I were Disney, I'd be pretty disappointed in these numbers. They spent well over $500 million for PtWoA (maybe even more given the licensing costs), and only saw a 3.8% increase in WDW attendance. Sure, DAK attendance was up double digits, but I think it's pretty clear that the appeal of Avatar did not drive any more growth to the Orlando resort than past additions. I think the resort is nearing critical mass, and the only way to drive real growth is to build a 5th gate, though I do think Star Wars will make a noticeable difference resort-wide, and in that case, Potteresque may be apropos. However, it's definitely an extreme exaggeration to use that term to describe the affect of PtWoA on WDW.

May 18, 2018 at 1:46 PM

You two are just the cutest thing on the internet.

May 18, 2018 at 1:50 PM

Maybe I can buy him a milkshake at Toothsome when I'm there in a month.

May 18, 2018 at 1:52 PM

I would LOVE to meet Russell and buy him a drink!

May 18, 2018 at 1:59 PM

Oooh...Sounds like a date! My wife might get jealous.

Seriously, I think it would be fun to meet and shoot the breeze if you're really interested TH.

May 18, 2018 at 2:28 PM

This website is JUST SO WEIRD!

May 18, 2018 at 2:31 PM

Mr. Meyers, send an email to Robert. Robert give Mr. Meyers my email. Mr. Meyers, put Meet Up in the subject line and we will see what happens.

May 19, 2018 at 3:46 AM

Back to the discussion then... The reason the AK numbers aren’t higher, is you cannot ride the damn rides. What good is it to make billions of dollars in expansions if the guests cannot experience them even if they want to? I am said this from the beginning, they are underestimating the popularity of Star Wars. It is more than Potter and will be much more than Avatar. If they don’t fix this issue, it will be a serious issue, and it does not look like they are going to. As a company, they are doing great now. Marvel is making millions. Star Wars is making millions. But as a poster mentioned above, their stock is flat, they are expanding into more debt with Fox. The deal with the actors in Marvel are expiring. Episode 9 is coming out in about a year. It was just a few years ago when they had Prince of Persia failures. The last thing they need is to build up without a thought of how to manage it. Maybe that is an argument against a fifth gate, but if the movie and TV division stars a downward trend and Galaxy’s Edge is a PR nightmare, it could be trouble. They probably should have done the fifth gate a while ago.

May 19, 2018 at 5:25 PM

Chimelong Ocean Kingdom seems to be giving Disney a run for it's money in the China market. This will most likely brake the 10million mark this year making it the first Non-Disney or Universal park to do so. The theming there looks amazing and they're opening a new resort and adding more gates to their current one. The Disneyland Paris growth is very pleasing to see. I'm sure attendance will grow even further when the Walt Disney Studios expansion is finished.

May 20, 2018 at 9:48 AM

I don't buy your argument that Star Wars land being really crowded is going to lead the downfall of Disney. Disney Parks have a long history of being so crowded to the point they have to close. DHS and Blizzard Beach both closed for capacity every day when they were new. Remember that first Thanksgiving WDW was open it closed for capacity at like 10am and there were cars backed up for miles, and there was nothing else to do in Orlando it was all undeveloped swamp at that time. At least now when a park hits capacity there are many other things to do.

May 20, 2018 at 5:38 PM

Not sure I said they are going to fail. That won't happen. My point is they have gotten to where their parks have bloated to a point, and the current system does not effectively manage the crowds. If their other divisions have problems, they could have money problems fixing things, but these parks are here to stay. Nevertheless, I go to them to have fun, and they are less fun than they once were. When IOA opened Potter the lines were crazy. Lines are to be expected on all new attractions, but what they have now are unreasonable situations year round on all attractions in Orlando. Star Wars land could lead to a customer service PR nightmare, not downfall.

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