SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has rough first year

Posted Tuesday, November 30, 2010 12:15 PM | Contributed by Jeff

Attendance, sales and profit have slumped at Orlando-based SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, dragged down by a soft economy, negative publicity and a weak slate of new attractions. Three killer whales in the company's care died unexpectedly. And a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando was violently killed by a 6-ton killer whale, a tragedy that triggered government investigations and private lawsuits and forever altered the company's hallmark orca shows.

SeaWorld, with Blackstone's backing, has launched the biggest construction spree in company history, with capital spending expected to approach nearly $200 million next year.

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 3:11 PM

Someone will post that this has something to do with the increase in the gate at the Florida parks in 5...4...3...2...

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010 4:01 PM

I bet this has something to do with the increase in the gate at the Florida parks.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010 4:40 PM

It's an entirely different kind of flying altogether.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010 5:08 PM

Surely you can't be serious. ;)

Nice timing, BTW. There are very few celebrities I'm genuinely impacted by their loss, but Leslie Nielsen is one of them.

Getting back on topic, I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that the drop in attendance was weighted in the company's central Florida parks. Orlando, and too a less arguable extent, Tampa, is a zero sum game. The standard model for most casual tourists and families has been, we do Disney, Disney, Disney.

For a subset of that group that can afford it, that model becomes Disney, Disney, Disney, and one other park. And whereas before, the non-Disney parks split the crumbs fairly evenly, now the lion's share is going to Universal Studios Islands of Harry Potter. (So much so that, for many visitors, the model may even become Harry Potter, Disney, Disney, and one other Disney park if they can afford it,) So USIoA's gain is Sea World Parks' loss.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010 6:56 PM

Yes I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.


It had to be said.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010 8:07 PM

RatherGoodBear said:
Yes I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.


It had to be said.

Yes, I remember. I had the lasagna.

And I just want to tell you both good luck..we're all counting on you.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010 9:34 PM

Now it is true that one of the pilots is ill...slightly ill. But the other two pilots are perfectly fine. They're at the controls flying the plane, free to live a life of religious fulfillment.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010 11:33 PM

I blame the decline on the elimination of beer samples at the hospitality house. ;)

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010 11:53 PM

Its been discussed throughout the industry that Busch Entertainment was rapidly approaching their admission ceiling. While personally I think Sea World Orlando is the single best park in Orlando, if you haven't grown up to visiting Sea World Ohio every summer, and love the marine experience, or if you are 'down' with all the shows, or what have you, Sea World is one of seven of the major players in Orlando. So, you have 7 choices. Period.

In the general public's eyes, Sea World is simply one of seven. However, down the street, Walt Disney World is immersing their guests in themed hotels, upscale dining, late night shows, parades, etc, at all of their parks every night. While Sea World can separate itself from the Mouse with live aquatic shows, penguins, sharks, polar bears, etc, it still is only one park. I can't bring other managers, family, and friends for more than 1 full day. Thats 1 full day.

If I had the chance to sit on this board, I would do just what all of you have been saying....lower the price. I would gamble that with a $60/day price, which is more than fair, would spurn more in-park spending. I would put a full service resturant in the old beer making building, and also build one in the Key-West section. I think adding the bbq, duplicating the Busch Gardens bbq was stupid. You want to keep guests longer, you lock them down with dinner reservations.

And actually have a serious Shamu buffet. I don't mean toss the nanny into Tilikum's tank to 'see what happens', but rather build a nice buffet location near the stadium. The dinner and show combo does work. They built Shark's Grill, which I eat at quite often, and then didn't build anymore. Look at the Universals/CityWalk sit downs...packed. I am certain Sea World could support more, with all the foreign tourists. Many I-Drive places are packed when Sea World closes.

Sea World has the ability to anchor a great admission package with Busch Gardens, Legoland, Discovery Cove, and Aquatica. (Disney's and Wet n Wild are tired). If they price accordingly, people will take advantage of it. If you are not Disney, be different.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 1:33 AM

Do you think the company is run by stupid people? Do you think they would raise admission if they thought it would hurt more than help their bottom line? I don't think you're giving them enough credit.

I'll tell you what the problem has been: InBev. For the relatively short amount of time they had their hands on the business, they did their best to suck the soul out of the company, squash its cap ex program and piss off the vendors and third parties that worked with them by not paying them in a timely manner. Seriously, they were taking cell phones from managers as if they were reading the Dick Kinzel book of silly and impractical budget cuts.

The cap ex delays/denials were the worst part of it, and because of the planning cycle, I believe that's why we've had the gap in solid new attractions. That's why it's all "on" for 2011. Blackstone removed the leash, and they're getting back to running their own company again.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 8:01 AM

rollergator said:
I blame the decline on the elimination of beer samples at the hospitality house. ;)

That's why I haven't gone back. :)

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 9:34 AM

I'm a big fan of Sea World and we never have a bad visit. I don't think their problems are with the admission price. In fact, there are some great Florida resident deals for both Sea World and Busch Gardens.

I'll be interested in seeing if Legoland develops a partnership with those two parks which would help them put a little dent in the Disney/Universal stronghold.

Sea World really has a great product. Good mix of shows and attractions. I've always felt their food was better than the other guys and their park is meticulous with lots of great emphasis on landscaping features.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 11:50 AM

Is it possible that Disney's strategy of keeping more guests on property is working (dining plans, magical express, magic your way passes, etc.)?

Before the magical express era, I would rent a car and the tripusually resulted in a visit to Universal. Now with the bus service, I stay on property and never leave....no reason to even go to Sea World with all that WDW has to offer.

Perhaps this strategy is working.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 11:58 AM

^Agreed, H&B. That's actually the real reason I haven't been back to Sea World or Universal in a while. That, and I'm a Disney fanboy. :)

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 1:44 PM

Well, Universal's attendance was up 36% this year (thanks to the wizard) and Disney's stayed relatively flat. (We don't know for sure since they are not releasing regional numbers anymore.)

Those folks are coming from somewhere and many of them are still leaving Disney property.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 2:06 PM

I've got to think that Sea World specifically is probably a more expensive park to operate than most of the other parks in Orlando, so just from an operational perspective some of their higher admission cost is justified. I'm reasonably certain that, for reasons that should be fairly obvious, on the average their work force is probably better educated, more highly trained, and more expensive than the other parks in the area. Then there is the matter of attractions...I'm guessing that even at its worst, the Big Bad Wolf probably had a much smaller consumable parts budget than, say, the "Believe" show.

It's just a thought. I do think AJ has some good points, though. It's interesting that Sea World, already the most expensive park in the area, and with a reduction in attendance this year, still felt that it could increase the admission price without damaging total revenue. I'm not sure how to read that...whether they are still getting more money out of fewer customers, or if it doesn't matter because of the unique (and *highly* profitable?) operations at Aquatica and Discovery Cove making up for it.

I guess their actions and promotions in the coming months will give us some signals as to whether they are reading the tea leaves correctly or not...

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 2:56 PM

Sort of related...

I went to Sea World San Diego early in the spring and thought the place was understaffed compared to prior (annual to bi-annual visitor). One example that really irked the wife and I was the parking situation. We had to leave the park late morning and came back about 1-2 pm. They had one parking attendant on duty. 50-100 cars were all funneled to one person. It was 30-40 minutes to go 50 yards. I talked to a manager to let him know what was happening, and rather than apologize, he stated that this was the new policy. He said "it does us no good to have an attendant doing nothing." I asked how good it was for them to "have the paying customer doing nothing." Needless to say, management and paying customer were not on the same page.

Fast forward to 3 weeks ago. We did Orlando (Animal Kingdom Lodge) for a week. Five days Disney @ rented a car for 2 days Universal. In years past we ALWAYS did Sea World. It has always been one of our favorites. But this time, while discussing the possibilities up to the very last minute (in the car on the way to Universal or Sea World), we decided that they did not deserve our dollar. This was based upon a very poor experience after the management change. We probably would have dropped a Disney day, but instead stayed put.

I don't know if my experience parallels what others have experienced. I just surmise that if the customer service is failing, then all the new attractions in the world won't mean a thing.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 7:55 PM

in the "it had to be said category":

Nice Beaver!

(Yes, I know it wasn't from Airplane, but it IS the definitive Leslie Nielsen quote.

Now, back to the topic on hand. Jeff is exactly right. While the current economy and Potter have taken a hit on Sea World Orlando, the larger chain wide problems (including the 2 Busch parks) are in no small way attributable to InBev. Jeff and I traded comments as soon as the original merger was announced that InBev would be a negative (if not major blow) to the parks, and well, I think that was right, both for all the reasons mentioned then, and above by Jeff.

InBev is ruthless in one thing, and that's extracting every penny of profit out of a business, and NONE of their holdings is anything close to a park experience. Customer service, guest satisfaction is nowhere in their mindset. It's all about delivering a liquid beverage in a container to a distribution point, with the least amount of cost, and it doesn't matter who they put the screws to along the way. While that may work for the commodity world of beer, it doesn't mesh well with the Experience of a theme park, or animal/adventure park.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010 7:46 AM

CreditWh0re said:

Nice Beaver!

What did Clint do that that so nice?

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