SeaWorld to open more at­trac­tions

Sesame Street pa­rades also com­ing to firm’s theme parks in 2018

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Gabrielle Rus­son Staff Writer

As SeaWorld hopes to re­bound from a tough fi­nan­cial year, the com­pany plans to open seven new at­trac­tions and two Sesame Street pa­rades at its parks in 2018, ex­ec­u­tives said Tues­day.

“The theme-park busi­ness isn’t rocket sci­ence,” said Brian Morrow, a SeaWorld vice pres­i­dent. “Build things that I can come do, and I will come to your park.”

Morrow and other ex­ec­u­tives touted the up­com­ing rides Tues­day at IAAPA At­trac­tions Expo, the in­dus­try’s largest trade show staged an­nu­ally in Or­lando by the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Amuse­ment Parks and At­trac­tions.

For SeaWorld, the new rides are key to the com­pany’s strat­egy

as it has strug­gled with steadily de­clin­ing at­ten­dance and rev­enues.

Last month, SeaWorld an­nounced it was elim­i­nat­ing 350 po­si­tions pri­mar­ily from cor­po­rate head­quar­ters and the parks in Or­lando and San Diego. The re­struc­tur­ing was ex­pected to save $5.1 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to an SEC fil­ing, and is part of the com­pany’s plan to reach $40 mil­lion in net sav­ings by the end of 2018.

SeaWorld is rein­vest­ing part of the sav­ings into its new at­trac­tions as it tries to grow at­ten­dance, the com­pany said. A spokesman de­clined to say how much SeaWorld is in­vest­ing in the at­trac­tions next year, only that it is sig­nif­i­cant.

The new rides in­clude a vir­tual-re­al­ity at­trac­tion at its Vir­ginia park, the In­fin­ity Falls rapids raft ride in Or­lando and a Sesame Street­themed fam­ily wooden roller coaster with a 40-foot drop in Penn­syl­va­nia’s Sesame Place.

Tampa’s Ad­ven­ture Is­land will add a drop slide called Van­ish Point, while SeaWorld San Diego will get an Elec­tric Eel roller coaster that reaches speeds of 62 mph and shoots nearly 150 feet in the air.

San Diego will fea­ture a “neigh­bor­hood street party pa­rade” with Sesame Street char­ac­ters, floats and per­for­mances in 2018, as will SeaWorld San An­to­nio. More de­tails on which char­ac­ters and the pa­rade tim­ing were still be­ing fi­nal­ized.

SeaWorld doesn’t of­ten add this many at­trac­tions in the U.S. at once.

“It’s a land­slide of new at­trac­tions com­ing next year,” Morrow said. Be­fore 2016, the com­pany typ­i­cally opened three or four new at­trac­tions a year, he said.

Fi­nan­cial an­a­lyst Tuna Amobi said he was sur­prised by the scope of SeaWorld’s new projects, al­though he said he re­al­izes it’s in­evitable.

“It’s al­most like they have to do it if they have any chance to com­pete in some of the mar­kets they are in — San Diego, Or­lando, etc,” said Amobi of CFRA Re­search. “They’re go­ing to con­tinue to re­main in an in­vest­ment mode for a while.”

The park up­grades may be in­tended to draw more pass hold­ers or re­peat vis­i­tors, al­though he said “the jury is still out” on whether they will pay off for SeaWorld in­vestors in the long run.

SeaWorld’s nearly 40-year part­ner­ship with Sesame Work­shop — the only U.S. theme park to work with the brand — is an im­por­tant piece of the com­pany’s new of­fer­ings, ex­ec­u­tives said.

“It works well for our SeaWorld parks,” Morrow said. “It al­lows us to widen our ex­pe­ri­ences into the IP mar­ket.”

Last week, the com­pany dis­closed at­ten­dance at its theme parks dropped by 732,000 in the third quar­ter com­pared with the same pe­riod in 2016. Rev­enues fell to about $437.7 mil­lion, or about 10 per­cent, from $485.3 mil­lion last year.

“We’re very en­cour­aged,” CEO Joel Manby told in­vestors in a con­fer­ence call, as he said the com­pany was open­ing new rides, sav­ing money and us­ing a new ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign in hopes of turn­ing around the park.

SeaWorld of­fi­cials pro­moted the park’s rides at the expo, where man­u­fac­tur­ers dis­play the new­est rides or tech­nol­ogy and ven­dors show­case the lat­est food cre­ations or trin­kets that could some­day be sold at amuse­ment parks. It runs this week at Or­ange County Con­ven­tion Cen­ter and is closed to the pub­lic.

COUR­TESY OF SEAWORLD EN­TER­TAIN­MENT

SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld San An­to­nio will fea­ture “neigh­bor­hood street party pa­rades” with Sesame Street char­ac­ters, floats and per­for­mances in 2018.

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