Attendance at Theme Parks Suffers a Slump : Entertainment: Disneyland turnstiles show a 10% decrease, while Knott’s, Sea World in San Diego and others hold steady.


The nation’s 10 most popular theme parks, including five in Southern California, recorded generally weak attendance in 1991 because of the recession and a travel slowdown spawned by the Gulf War, according to a leading trade publication.

Disneyland, the pioneer of American theme parks, saw its attendance fall by an estimated 10%, Amusement Business Magazine reported this week. Patronage was unchanged at Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Sea World of California in San Diego and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, the magazine reports.

Attendance fell by 7% at the nation’s largest theme park complex, Walt Disney World outside of Orlando, Fla., because of a slow domestic tourism market, according to the magazine. But the theme park resort, which still drew an estimated 28 million people, was also hurt by the increased popularity of Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. The new Universal park recorded a 52% attendance boost during its first full year of operation, which moved it into third place.


The Gulf War last January brought the travel and tourism market to a virtual standstill as would-be travelers became glued to their TV sets in a condition that travel agents dubbed “the CNN effect.” Theme parks responded by offering a rash of local discounts and promotions to lure tourists and area residents out of the house.

Disneyland in Anaheim led Southern California’s theme park discounters by offering a $20 flat entry price for local residents last winter, but still lost attendance for the year. Estimated attendance was 11.6 million.

Disneyland has a policy of not divulging its attendance figures. Publicist John McClintock professed ignorance about the actual numbers but added, “My impression is that it hasn’t been that bad.”

Still, Disneyland is bringing back its locals-only promotion between Jan. 11 and March 15. Anyone showing a California driver’s license or other proof of residency in the Southland is eligible for the $20 reduced entry price.

McClintock also said he expects park attendance to pick up in April when Disneyland begins staging a nightly show in Frontierland that includes projecting images on cascading water.

Universal Studios Hollywood, which hosted 4.6 million visitors last year to maintain its fourth-place national ranking, saw the year start slow but regained its attendance in a rousing fourth quarter, according to Steve Lew, president of the studios tour.

He said the gains were due to new attractions, such as the park’s movie-based E.T. ride, and a resurgence in foreign tourism. “It came back sufficiently, and we believe it will come back stronger” next year, Lew said.

Jim Harmon, a partner in the theme park consulting firm Management Resources in Tustin, said theme parks expected modest attendance in 1991 and stayed within projections.

Many parks will be trying to expand their market share with more aggressive promotions and by building elaborate new rides, he said. The parks hope for at least a gradual economic recovery that will allow them to rebuild attendance to its peak levels of three and four years ago.

“I don’t think anybody is going into this year with aggressive optimism,” Harmon said. “They are going to take it as it comes.”

Top 10 Theme Parks

It was a generally slow year for the nation’s 10 largest theme parks, half of which are in Southern California. While some theme parks release their attendance, most of the entries in this annual list are estimates.

Attendance Rank Park, Location (millions) Change 1. Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla. 28.0 -7% 2. Disneyland 11.6 -10% 3. Universal Studios Florida, Orlando, Fla. 6.9 +52% 4. Universal Studios Hollywood 4.6 NC 5. Knott’s Berry Farm 4.0 NC 6. Sea World of Florida, Orlando 3.4 -10% 7. Sea World of California, San Diego 3.3 NC 8. Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia 3.2 NC 9. Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio 3.0 -2% 10. Santa Cruz Boardwalk 3.0 +11%

Source: Amusement Business Magazine