2018 continues to be a banner year for SeaWorld Orlando’s parent company, which reported increased attendance, revenue and income across all its theme parks in the third quarter.
Attendance at SeaWorld Entertainment parks was up by 700,000 guests, or 9.7 percent, compared to the same quarter in 2017. Revenue jumped 10.4 percent, while net income was $41 million higher than the previous year.
Combining the results of the two previous quarters, SeaWorld’s attendance has increased by 8.7 percent, and revenue has shot up by 9.5 percent through the first nine months of 2018. The company does not break down its attendance and revenue gains by park, but interim CEO John Reilly said the focus on season pass sales — with the lowest-priced passes now costing $10 per month — is a major reason for this year’s positive results.
“The performance has been rather broad-based, and we’ve seen improvement … from tourists across the portfolio,” Reilly told reporters and financial analysts on the company’s earnings call. “Certainly with the locals, we believe with the incredible value and benefit structure and options and low monthly payments that our pass programs offer we’re well positioned on that front going forward.”
SeaWorld Orlando had struggled with declines in attendance and revenue for years since the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which criticized the park’s use of captive whales. To keep guests coming through the gates, Reilly said the “free beer” promotion would be back in Orlando next year and be offered year-round at Busch Gardens Tampa in January, coinciding with that park’s 60th anniversary.
The one sore spot for the park was the late opening of Infinity Falls at the Orlando park. First set to open during the peak summer season, the raft ride wasn’t open for regular operations until October 4 — after the third quarter had already ended.
It’s a mistake Reilly said the park won’t repeat with the park’s next expansion: the new Sesame Street area set to open in 2019 with six kid-friendly attractions.
“We just love the Sesame IP, we put it in our other parks we’re doing it in a very big way here in Orlando,” Reilly said. “So we’re excited about the combination of that and Infinity Falls next year. And I feel good about our ability to open Sesame Street as planned.”
The positive financial results have not erased all of the company’s “Blackfish” stigma. Thomas Cook, one of the largest travel companies in the U.K., announced earlier this year it would no longer sell tickets to parks like SeaWorld which keep killer whales in captivity.
The park has also remained a target of animal rights group PETA. This past weekend, the group paid for a truck to drive around popular Orlando attractions displaying a digital billboard resembling an orca in a tank — the idea being to get visitors “to avoid SeaWorld like the plague.”
“As PETA has suggested all along, diversifying SeaWorld is the only way to save it,” PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement on SeaWorld’s third-quarter earnings. “The public has spoken: Roller coasters and other non-animal attractions are preferable to witnessing the misery and death of animals displayed in dismally small tanks. SeaWorld will never fully recover, and PETA will never stop protesting until every animal has been freed.”