Southern California’s tourist industry could be in for a rough ride.
With recession in the wind, a majority of the state’s major attractions saw decreases in attendance during 1990, according to Amusement Business Magazine, a Nashville, Tenn.-based trade publication that follows the industry.
In Southern California, attendance dropped at Disneyland, San Diego’s Sea World and Universal Studios Hollywood, the magazine said. Knott’s Berry Farm recorded no significant change in attendance and Six Flags Magic Mountain was up slightly.
In Northern California, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Marine World-Africa USA in Vallejo were down, while the Great America theme park in Santa Clara posted a slight increase, Amusement Business said.
Park officials agreed that 1990 attendance was soft because many Americans scrapped plans to travel for vacations because of worries about the slumping economy. They said visits by foreign tourists and local residents remained strong.
“We’ve been strong from Los Angeles. We’ve been strong in San Diego. We’ve been strong internationally,” said Sea World of California spokesman Dan LeBlanc. “But the long-haul domestic traveler has not been coming to San Diego.”
Tim O’Brien, the magazine’s Southeast editor, said that some other parks, such as Great America, attributed their attendance gains to tapping into the local market.
Anaheim-based Disneyland remains the second most popular theme park in the nation, following its sister park, Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla. The Florida park also includes EPCOT Center and Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park
Disneyland had estimated attendance of 12.9 million visitors last year, a 3% decline over the previous year, the magazine said, attributing the drop to a soft tourism market in Southern California.
Disneyland spokesman Bob Roth said “foreign tourism was exceptionally strong and domestic tourism was one place where (the market) was a little soft.” The park has a policy of not releasing attendance figures and would not comment on the magazine’s estimate.
Knott’s Berry Farm ranked third nationally with five million visitors, displacing Universal Studio Hollywood which fell to fourth. But Knott’s spokesman Stuart Zanville said that the figure includes a million people who entered a marketplace shopping area without paying to go into the theme park.
He said a new looping roller coaster helped the park to finish strong. “The local market was good because of the “Boomerang” (roller coaster) but it did not offset the losses caused by the soft tourism market.”
Universal Studios had 4.6 million visitors, down 9%, though it still believes it holds title to third place because of higher theme park attendance than Knott’s. Spokesman Jim Yeager said that besides a soft tourism market, the tourist attraction was hurt by a perception that it was devastated by a spectacular Nov. 6 fire on its back lot. Actually, Yeager said, the fire damaged only a small portion of the tour. King Kong and other major attractions were left unscathed, he said.
Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia finished the year with 3.1 million visitors, according to the magazine, up 4.5%. Park spokeswoman Courtney Simmons gave a slightly higher figure, 3.2 million.
She attributed the growth to popularity of the park’s new Viper roller coaster and reliance on the local market. She said 80% of the park’s attendance comes from Southern California. “Even though we saw our tourism attendance decline, it’s such a small part of our overall attendance,” she said.
Sea World had about 3.3 million visitors, off 8% from last year’s attendance, said Amusement Business. A spokesman for the park said attendance was off, but only about 5%.
CALIFORNIA’S TOP AMUSEMENT PARKS Most of the state’s largest amusement parks suffered declines in attendance in 1990. A 9% drop at Universal Studios, attributed to diminished tourism and false perceptions that the park was demolished by fire, allowed Knott’s Berry Farm to move into second place in the state, after Disneyland.
‘90 ’89 Attendance Park Location Rank Rank (millions) Disneyland Anaheim 2 2 12.9* Knott’s Berry Farm Buena Park 3 4 5.0 Universal Studios Universal City 4 3 4.6 Sea World of California San Diego 6 6 3.3* Six Flags Magic Mountain Valencia 8 10 3.1 Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Santa Cruz 13 11 2.7 Great America Santa Clara 17 19 2.3 Marine World-Africa USA Vallejo 31 29 1.3
Park % Change Disneyland -3% Knott’s Berry Farm no change Universal Studios -9% Sea World of California -8% Six Flags Magic Mountain up slightly Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk -4% Great America +2.5% Marine World-Africa USA -7%
*Estimate Source: Amusement Business magazine