SeaWorld developing safety plan for return
Company has suffered a $56.5 million net loss in first-quarter earnings
SeaWorld parks in Orlando and elsewhere will require employees to wear masks and get their temperatures checked, and the public could be spaced in every other row in the stadium to watch an orca show.
Interim CEO Marc Swanson gave an update Friday on a coronavirus safety plan under development, although he stressed he still cannot give any official opening dates yet. SeaWorld’s Texas attractions could open first before Florida in phased-in openings around the county, Swanson said.
“We are in regular contact with local, state and federal authorities,
and we look forward to opening our parks and welcoming back our guests as soon as it’s safe and permitted to do so,” Swanson said in a news release as the company disclosed the most recent financial hit from the coronavirus pandemic that have shut down their parks since March 16.
The Orlando-based company suffered a $56.5 million net loss in first-quarter earnings while attendance that broke records in early 2020 then tanked by 31% by the end of the quarter March 31. Revenues fell 30% to about $154 million.
Once state officials give the green light, it could take two to three weeks before a park is ready to welcome guests, Swanson said.
SeaWorld’s technology team is designing ride reservation systems and mobile ordering, although the virtual platforms might not be fully finished when the parks open. The parks could rely on markers, signs and employees giving directions, Swanson said.
Swanson outlined requirements for employees, such as wearing masks and getting temperature checks, although he did not say whether those rules would be enforced for visitors, too.
For years, SeaWorld has fought to rebuild its attendance after years of major financial struggles following the “Blackfish” documentary controversy and multibillion-dollar expansions by Universal and Disney.
Now, maybe SeaWorld’s smaller size could play into its favor in a post-coronavirus world as executives must weigh how to keep visitors safe but also whether they will at least break even once they do reopen.
“We rarely operate at full capacity,” Swanson said.
On peak days in SeaWorld Orlando, attendance could hit 30,000 people a day but might dwindle to 5,000 during a slow day in January, he said.
This spring, the company was set to open two roller coasters in Central Florida at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. But in recent weeks, the company hasn’t given an update on the status of Orlando’s family-friendly Ice Breaker coaster. Adrenaline junkies also are following Tampa’s Iron Gwazi coaster. The websites now say: Coming in 2020. It’s still unknown if the ride openings will change in Florida.
Throughout all SeaWorld’s parks, construction crews had completed 90% of the new attractions that were supposed to open this year. The company said it will decide whether it’s worth delaying them until 2021.
Similar to Disney World and Universal Orlando, SeaWorld hasn’t publicly announced a new opening date but is taking on debt to help the company navigate the shutdown. Shanghai Disneyland becomes the first Disney international park to start allowing visitors on Monday with significant fewer crowds allowed.
In April, SeaWorld said it had enough cash to make it through into the fourth quarter in 2021. Despite paying little in federal income taxes, the company said earlier it also hopes to tap into a federal loan program for midsized businesses that Congress and President Donald Trump created to provide relief from the coronavirus.
With 95% of its employees furloughed without pay, the company is still caring for the whales, dolphins, manatees and other animals. Rescue crews helped more than 350 animals sick or injured in the wild in the first quarter, SeaWorld said Friday.
One analyst asked executives if SeaWorld could still draw good staff since the majority of current employees are furloughed and lost their health insurance.
“One thing I like about our company is we have a lot of people who are pretty passionate about working here. There’s a lot of good things this company does with conservation and animal rescues,” Swanson said. “I’m confident we can get employees.”