SeaWorld attendance keeps dropping, with a sharp decline in the key summer months

SeaWorld attendance and revenue fell sharply during the key summer months, with the San Diego and Orlando, Fla., marine parks seeing the biggest drop-offs, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. reported Tuesday.

Although the third-quarter results for the company’s Florida and Texas parks were clearly hurt by hurricanes Irma and Harvey, which forced those parks to close temporarily, SeaWorld San Diego’s attendance woes had more to do with the “public perception” issues that have dogged it for the last several years, the company said.

Its falling attendance was fueled in part by fewer visitors from the Southern California area, the company said.

Companywide, attendance declined nearly 9%, with 732,000 fewer people visiting the theme parks than during the same quarter last year. Similarly, quarterly revenue saw a steep drop, falling by 10% to $437.7 million.

More precipitous was the fall in net profit: It sank 16% to $55 million, down from $65.7 million a year earlier.

The company’s poor showing comes on the heels of continued cost-cutting, which included the recent elimination of 350 positions.

Still, shares of Seaworld Entertainment rose 1.5% to $11.36 on Tuesday. They are down 40% this year so far.

In what has become a familiar refrain, SeaWorld Chief Executive Joel Manby said he expects that new attractions and aggressive marketing will help drive a turnaround.

"Attendance trends have improved since we launched our fall and Halloween events in late September,” Manby said in a statement. “We remain confident in our plan to drive growth over time by addressing reputational challenges and creating fun and meaningful guest experiences, while maintaining a sharp focus on financial discipline. Our compelling product lineup, updated pricing strategies and aggressive marketing and advertising promotion will begin to roll out early next year."

In the meantime, the company has once again lowered its annual expectation for adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, this time to a range of $280 million to $295 million. That is down from guidance issued three months ago of $280 million to $310 million, and from an even earlier forecast of $330 million to $360 million.

The company said, as it had in August, that it had made a mistake in pulling back on its advertising that was designed to bolster its brand. SeaWorld has been suffering for years from the backlash of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which accused the company of mistreating killer whales, and thought it had finally put its image troubles behind it.

"Park to Planet," a feel-good commercial dominated by video of the ocean, marine mammals, rescue work and undersea exploration, began airing in San Diego last month and is expected to go nationwide next year.

And in a move to entice more Southern Californians to patronize SeaWord, the San Diego park began promoting a discounted $99.99 annual pass that includes free parking.

SeaWorld San Diego is hoping attendance will get a boost next year from the planned opening of the park’s fastest and tallest roller coaster, the Electric Eel.

lori.weisberg@sduniontribune.com


UPDATES:

2:45 p.m.: This article was updated with SeaWorld Entertainment shares’ closing price.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m.

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