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SeaWorld blames weather, reputation attacks for latest attendance dip

SeaWorld blames weather, reputation attacks for latest attendance dip
Trainers direct killer whales at SeaWorld in San Diego. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. reported a slight drop in attendance and revenue in the quarter that ended June 30, citing heavy rain in Texas and continued pressure from animal rights groups over the treatment of the marine parks' killer whales.

The Orlando, Fla.-based company reported $391.6 million in revenue, down 3% from $405.2 million in the second quarter of 2014, and 6.478 million in attendance, a 1.6% drop from 6.584 million a year earlier.

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SeaWorld Entertainment, which operates 11 parks, including SeaWorld San Diego, reported an 84% drop in net income from $37.4 million to $5.8 million for the quarter. Food and merchandise sales per guest remained flat while per capita revenue from admission dropped 2.8%, mostly because of promotional offerings in the quarter.

By comparison, the Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday reported a 5% increase in revenue for the quarter that ended June 27, with revenue from parks and resorts up 4%.

SeaWorld officials blamed the decline in attendance on bad weather at SeaWorld San Antonio, a shift in the timing of Easter to the first quarter this year and ongoing criticism from animal rights groups that began with the 2013 release of the documentary "Blackfish."

But the company's new president and chief executive, Joel Manby, said he was confident that a $10-million promotional campaign, including television commercials, has counteracted criticism by animal rights groups and helped rebuild the company's reputation.

"We will continue to fight with the facts, because the facts are on our side," he said during a conference call with analysts.

Animal rights groups have accused the company of neglecting and abusing its killer whales. SeaWorld has announced plans to nearly double the size of its orca enclosure in San Diego. A decision by the California Coastal Commission on the project was pushed back from August to October after the agency received more than 75,000 emails and letters.

Manby told analysts that he was not worried about the delay.

"We don't expect any approval issues there," Manby said.

Animal rights groups, which have been calling on SeaWorld to release its killer whales to ocean sanctuaries, said the lower attendance numbers prove that the public has turned against SeaWorld.

"SeaWorld Entertainment continues to push a business model – one based on the exploitation of a long-lived, intelligent, social mammal – that is clearly no longer viable," Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, said in a statement.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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