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Harry Potter boosts Universal Studios attendance; Disneyland visits slip

Harry Potter boosts Universal Studios attendance; Disneyland visits slip
Sereena Worino visits the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 7, 2016. The new land helped boost attendance at the park last year. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The magic of Harry Potter conjured a big boost in attendance last year at Universal Studios Hollywood, even as crowds dwindled at Disneyland.

Universal Studios Hollywood, which opened the $500-million Wizarding World of Harry Potter in April 2016, welcomed more than 8 million visitors, a 13.9% increase in attendance compared with the previous year, according to Los Angeles consulting firm Aecom. It was the largest percentage increase of any of the top 25 theme parks in the world.

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"Universal Studios Hollywood attributes its unparalleled attendance growth in 2016 to its ambitious investment in the destination, including the unprecedented arrival of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter," said Karen Irwin, president and chief operating officer of the park.

The attendance report, released Thursday, found that the world's 25 largest theme parks drew 233 million visitors last year, down 1.1% from 2015. North America's top 20 parks drew 148 million visitors, a 1.2% increase over the previous year, the report said.

Disneyland in Anaheim drew 17.9 million visitors last year, a 1.8% drop from 2015, when the park launched several new attractions to celebrate the resort's 60th anniversary, Aecom said.

Disneyland may have lost some visitors in 2016 because it closed 10 attractions and eateries at the start of the year — some temporarily and some permanently — to make room for construction of a new 14-acre Star Wars land, which is scheduled to open in 2019.

Disney California Adventure hosted 9.3 million visitors last year, a 0.9% decrease from the previous year, according to the Aecom report.

Disney park representatives declined to discuss attendance trends but noted that the company is making major investments in the resort that should pay off in the future.

"We are investing behind the wealth of great franchises we have in order to deliver magical experiences that exceed our guests expectations," Walt Disney Co. said in a statement.

Aecom publishes the attendance tally annually in collaboration with the Themed Entertainment Assn., a trade group for attraction developers and designers. Most theme parks don't report attendance, but industry insiders say that Aecom's estimates are accurate.

John Robinett, Aecom's senior vice president of economics, attributed the slight attendance decline globally to bad weather, political turmoil and a drop in tourism in several parts of the world, especially in Asia.

"Following record-setting numbers in 2015, attendance results in 2016 were more modest but still reflective of a healthy, growing industry," he said.

Elsewhere in Southern California:

  • Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park welcomed 4 million visitors, a 3.8% increase over 2015

  • Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia hosted 3.3 million visitors, a 7.3% increase over 2015

  • SeaWorld San Diego, which has been trying to overcome protests from animal rights groups over its treatment of its orcas, had 3.5 million visitors, about the same as in 2015.

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

UPDATES:

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5:05 p.m.: This article was updated to include a comment from Walt Disney Co.

This article was originally published at 3 p.m.

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