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SeaWorld, buoyed by strong finances, looks to draw more theme park visitors

Aug. 4, 2022 Updated Thu., Aug. 4, 2022 at 6:40 p.m.

Visitors ride SeaWorld Orlando’s Mako roller coaster on June 9, 2016.  (Tribune News Service )
Visitors ride SeaWorld Orlando’s Mako roller coaster on June 9, 2016. (Tribune News Service )
By Katie Rice Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando-based SeaWorld Entertainment continued to see robust financial results last quarter even as certain types of attendance at the company’s theme parks remain below prepandemic levels and operating costs increase, executives said.

This quarter marks SeaWorld’s fifth consecutive period of record financial results, Chief Executive Office Marc Swanson said during a Thursday earnings call.

But the company continues to face lagging international and group attendance, increased costs due to inflation, and staffing issues.

The company’s total revenue was nearly $505 million from April through June this year, up $65 million from the same period in 2021 and almost $99 million from 2019.

Its adjusted earnings reached over $234 million, an increase of over $15 million from 2021’s second quarter and about $85 million from 2019’s.

Around 6.3 million guests visited SeaWorld’s parks last quarter, a decrease of around 200,000 people from 2019’s second quarter due to trailing international and group visitation but up 500,000 from mid-2021.

Nearly 9.7 million people have visited the theme parks so far this year.

Swanson said international visitation is still reduced by around 50% and group attendance is down “probably in the teens” compared to 2019.

The company is focusing on growing all types of attendance moving forward.

“We have room in our parks,” he said. “We’ve added a number of new attractions over the years; we have more attractions on the horizon.

“We’ve done different new lands and realms and things like that. So I’m confident that we can still attract more people, obviously, and still have plenty of room.”

Even with attendance recovering, park visitors are spending more compared to pre-pandemic thanks to higher ticket, retail and food and beverage prices.

In-park per capita spending increased nearly 33% from 2019’s second quarter, according to the company.

Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Chelle Adams said SeaWorld’s annual passholder base was up by around 20% this July compared with July 2019.

The company is managing the increased costs of inflation and executives feel optimistic about its ability to weather a potential recession.

The majority of visitors to SeaWorld’s parks are local, with around 85% of attendees arriving by car, so its business is more like a “typical regional amusement park,” Swanson said.

“At times, people compare our business to destination theme park businesses like Disney or Universal, but we believe our visitation and business dynamics are more closely comparable to our regional theme park peers,” he said.

Staffing has improved from last quarter’s “less-than-optimal” levels but remains below where it should be, even after efforts to bring in international workers, Swanson said.

He added that SeaWorld is looking to optimize its employee numbers through scheduling changes.

In 2022’s first quarter, SeaWorld reported record revenue and earnings along with higher attendance than pre-pandemic.

The company closed out 2021 with historically high annual revenue.

During a May earnings call, executives said SeaWorld was planning new projects and looking toward international expansion with details to come later in the year.

Executives did not give specific information on these projects – like the new rollercoaster SeaWorld Orlando teased earlier this summer – Thursday, but Swanson said the company is progressing with plans to design and build hotels at its theme parks.

Adams, who joined SeaWorld in June, said the company is investing in “rides, attractions, events and habitats” to bring something new to SeaWorld’s parks every year, and it is also looking to enhance the quality and variety of its food and beverage and retail offerings.

SeaWorld plans to invest $130 million to $140 million in core capital expenditures and an extra $50 million to $60 million on growth and return on investment capital expenditures this year, she said.

Executives did not mention allegations of racism leveled at SeaWorld in July after a performer was accused of discriminating against two Black girls at its Sesame Place Philadelphia park.

The incident sparked other Black families to come forward with similar allegations, and one filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld in late July.

SeaWorld did not respond when previously contacted about the July incident.

Sesame Place apologized to the family and has promised to launch mandatory employee training on inclusion and equity.

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