SeaWorld says 2020 was shaping up to a positive year for the theme park chain, with record-setting numbers in attendance revenue and earnings through February 

Then came the COVID-19 virus, which has kept all its parks closed since March 16. Orlando-based SeaWorld Entertainment reported a $56.5 million net loss for the first three months of the year. Those previously record-setting attendance and revenue figures each ended up falling by almost 30 percent compared to the first quarter of 2019. 

“While we don’t have any park opening dates to announce today, we are in regular contact with local, state, and federal authorities and we sincerely look forward to opening our parks and welcoming back our guests as soon as it is safe and permitted to do so,” SeaWorld interim CEO Marc Swanson said on the company’s first quarter earnings call Friday. 

With little to no revenue coming in, SeaWorld has placed the vast majority of its staff on furlough and raised $227.5 million in a private offering. The parks continue to cost $25 million per month to maintain, even while closed to guests, thanks to the costs of utilities and  Executive salaries have also been reduced, though the same execs were also granted $6.8 million in stock awards

Like larger Disney and Universal parks, construction has also been halted on attractions originally set to open later this year. That included two coasters in Central Florida: Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s Iron Gwazi, which entered its testing phase shortly before the parks shuttered. Overall, the company says nearly 90 percent of its 2020 construction had been completed prior to the closure. 

“Depending on when we are allowed to reopen, we will make the decision as to whether or not the unfinished projects are completed for the 2020 season or pushed into 2021,” Swanson said. 

Like other Orlando theme parks, SeaWorld is assessing how the parks can operate upon reopening, as the COVID-19 virus will remain a threat. Some of those measures will involve increased operating costs, such as additional sanitation and providing masks and temperature checks to employees. 

Reduced capacity is likely another option. Swanson said its parks typically have “significant excess capacity” and can still turn a profit at reduced attendance levels. 

At SeaWorld Orlando, he said “a peak day might be upper 20,000s to 30,000 in attendance a day. In January or February, it might be 5,000.So that gives you some order of magnitude there of how low the attendance can go and we still feel good about operating.”

The company is working on new technology to help facilitate operations in the middle of a pandemic, such as mobile food ordering and reservation systems.

Whenever SeaWorld parks can reopen, Swanson believes local visitors and annual passholders will return. 

“Our surveys suggest that there’s a pretty strong pent-up demand for people who say they’re likely or very likely to come visit a park when it opens,” Swanson said.

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