New Theme Park Report May Surprise You, Universal Gains on Disney

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Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort

The Theme Park industry has finally found its never-never land again, according to a recently published study from the Themed Entertainment Association.

Credit Oakwood Theme Park

After a wild ride of starts and stops throughout the pandemic, the global Theme Park industry in 2021 witnessed a dramatic increase in visitors. That is the good news. The not-so-good information for overall attendance was that it was still well below the global figures for 2019.

What Changed In The Theme Park Industry In 2021?

2021 was a banner year financially for the Theme Park industry despite not being able to eclipse the 2019 mark in visitors. The total attendance of the top 25 amusement parks globally was 141.35 million in 2021, greater than 70% from 2020. One hundred forty million plus people may sound like a ton of Guests. Still, the industry generally likes to see a quarter of a billion people in attendance annually at Theme Parks worldwide to gain a healthy profit.

Marvel heroes at Superhero island at Universal Studios Orlando
Credit: Marvel / Universal Studios

Theme parks emphasized their local markets to build up a loyal and lucrative base of repeat visitors for 2021. In specific ways, the pandemic strengthened theme parks as regional destinations. It provided Guests with an affordable, nostalgic, and safe outdoor alternative to destinations that didn’t require as much traveling.

Annual membership passes also played a vital role in the industry’s rebound. Almost every central Theme Park took pandemic closures as an opportunity to rethink and re-engineer their approach to season passes.

Some Theme Park firms, such as Six Flags, offered customers steep discounts on their pass program to entice people to return to the parks. On the other hand, The Walt Disney Company completely revamped its Annual Pass program and raised its gate fees in the process. Universal Orlando offered a ticket and passed deals targeting Florida residents to compensate for the lack of international traffic.

Credit: Six Flags

The emphasis on Annual Pass sales was very effective. For example, SeaWorld Entertainment saw a 10% drop in general attendance from 2019 to 2021, but their season pass base was only down 3% for the same time frame.

The industry’s dependence on Intellectual Property (IP) has also expanded. Historically was has become a big staple for major Park attractions. IP is emerging in other forms of entertainment like family entertainment centers, waterparks, cafes, and hotels.

Following the successful 2019 debut of the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge-themed area at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts, The Walt Disney Company debuted the Avengers Campus at California Adventure in 2021, with planned campuses opening in Disneyland Paris for 2022 and Disneyland Hong Kong in 2023.

Hong Kong Disneyland
Credit: Disney

IP is becoming increasingly important in connecting with and creating Theme Park experiences. Consumers have strong connections with IPs that transcend continents.

Super Nintendo World opened at Universal Studios Japan in 2021 to rave reviews and will be replicated at its Hollywood and future Epic Universe parks. The Park also opened the DreamWorks Destination attraction, where Guests can meet and interact with DreamWorks characters. Universal Studios Hollywood opened the Thea-awarded Secret Life of Pets dark ride, which was ready in 2020 but held until more favorable operating conditions. That Park saw a 323% increase over 2020.

Universal Studios Japan
Credit: Universal Studios Japan

The best performer in 2021 appears to be Universal Orlando Resort. Based on the published results, its parks passed three of the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks. It looks like Universal’s success was at the expense of SeaWorld Orlando, which lost share to its fellow theme Park Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, last year.

What Can We Expect From The Amusement Park Industry Moving Forward?

International attendance, a significant contribution to attendance for many amusement parks in the past, has yet to recover fully. Until mid-2022, complicated COVID testing requirements made international travel to many places very difficult, including the United States.

According to Visit Orlando, international traffic made up 9% of visitors in 2019; in 2021, it was just 4%. Not surprisingly, combined domestic and international travel to Orlando in 2021 was at 78% of 2019 levels, which aligns with attendance percentage reporting from central Florida’s theme parks.

SeaWorld Orlando aerial view
Credit: SeaWorld

International traffic is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023. However, a strengthening US dollar makes travel more expensive for overseas visitors planning to visit the parks in the United States.

Like many items in the last few years, theme parks have not been immune to inflation. Gate tickets have certainly gone up in price. Despite a smaller number of visitors, the spending per person at Disney Parks in the United States increased by 17%, for example.

It’s now less about how many people amusement Park companies can pack into the parks but how much money each person will spend while there, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Themed Entertainment Association report, many other Theme Park operators also claimed they had seen substantial gains in per-capita spending.

Financial reports indicated dramatic increases in per capita spending at 19 of the top 20 North American parks. The increase was partly due to pent-up demand from Park closures during the pandemic, increased savings from lower travel and entertainment costs during the lockdown, and inflation.

disney genie plus
Credit: Disney Parks Blog

But the parks have also figured out how to increase revenues: they adjusted their pricing, promoted advance ticket sales, and offered new and elevated merchandise and food options. In the fourth quarter of 2021, the Walt Disney World Resort debuted Genie+. This automated app provides personalized itineraries for Guests, effectively replacing the Resort’s free FastPass program with a tiered system that offers a base level of complimentary services and paid premium access for additional benefits.

This trend is probably the most significant from an operational standpoint. Increased spending will generate revenue growth, allowing parks to invest in new attractions and experiences that keep visitors returning. Whether increased spending represents an ongoing evolution in consumer behavior or just a side-effect of recovering from a pandemic might not matter because these parks have weathered the perfect storm and have become savvy at giving Guests what they want.

Walt Disney in front of disneyland castle
Credit: Disney

The Top 25 Theme Parks Based on Attendance

The Themed Entertainment Association also reported its top 25 list of the most attended theme parks in 2021. Below is the list of the complete 25 lists most attended theme parks worldwide:

1. Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort

Location: Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

  • 2021 attendance: 12.7 million (+82% from 2020-2021)
  • 2020 attendance: 6.9 million 
  • 2019 attendance: 21 million

2. Disneyland Park

Location: Anaheim, Calif., USA

  • 2021 attendance: 8.6 million (+133% from 2020-2021)
  • 2020 attendance: 3.7 million
  • 2019 attendance: 18.7 million

3. Tokyo Disneyland

Location: Tokyo, Japan

  • 2021 attendance: 6.3 million (+51%)
  • 2020 attendance: 4.2 million
  • 2019 attendance: 17.9 million
The epic entryway into Tokyo DisneySea
Credit: Disney

4. Tokyo DisneySea

Location: Tokyo, Japan

  • 2021 attendance: 5.8 million (+71%)
  • 2020 attendance: 3.4 million
  • 2019 attendance: 4.7 million

5. Universal Studios Japan

Location: Osaka, Japan

  • 2021 attendance: 5.5 million (+12%)
  • 2020 attendance: 4.9 million
  • 2019 attendance: 14.5 million

6. Disney’s Animal Kingdom At Walt Disney World

Location: Lake Buena Vista, Fla., USA

  • 2021 attendance: 7.2 million (+73%)
  • 2020 attendance: 4.2 million
  • 2019 attendance: 13.9 million

7. EPCOT At Walt Disney World

Location: Lake Buena Vista, Fla., USA

  • 2021 attendance: 7.8 million (+92%)
  • 2020 attendance: 4 million
  • 2019 attendance: 12.4 million
spaceship earth
Credit: Inside the Magic

8. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom

Location: Hengqin, China

  • 2021 attendance: 7.5 million (+55%)
  • 2020 attendance: 4.8 million
  • 2019 attendance: 11.7 million

9. Disney’s Hollywood Studios At Walt Disney World

Location: Lake Buena Vista, Fla., USA

  • 2021 attendance: 8.6 million (+134%)
  • 2020 attendance: 3.7 million
  • 2019 attendance: 11.5 million

10. Shanghai Disneyland

Location: Shanghai, China

  • 2021 attendance: 8.5 million (+54%)
  • 2020 attendance: 5.5 million
  • 2019 attendance: 11.2 million

11. Universal Studios Florida

Location: Orlando, Fla., USA

  • 2021 attendance: 9 million (+119%)
  • 2020 attendance: 4.1 million
  • 2019 attendance: 10.9 million
Hogwarts castle holiday at universal studios hollywood
Credit: Universal

12. Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Location: Orlando, Fla., USA

  • 2021 attendance: 9 million (+127%)
  • 2020 attendance: 4 million
  • 2019 attendance: 10.4 million

13. Disney California Adventure Park

Location: Anaheim, Calif., USA

  • 2021 attendance: 5 million (+159%)
  • 2020 attendance: 1.9 million
  • 2019 attendance: 9.9 million

14. Disneyland Park at Disneyland Paris

Location: Marne-La-Vallee, France 

  • 2021 attendance: 3.5 million (+34%)
  • 2020 attendance: 2.6 million
  • 2019 attendance: 9.7 million
Mickey Mouse at Disneyland Paris
Credit: Disney

15. Universal Studios Hollywood

Location: Universal City, Calif., USA

  • 2021 attendance: 5.5 million (+324%)
  • 2020 attendance: 1.3 million
  • 2019 attendance: 9.1 million

16. Everland

Location: Seoul, South Korea

  • 2021 attendance: 3.7 million (+34%)
  • 2020 attendance: 2.8 million
  • 2019 attendance: 6.6 million

17. Lotte World

Location: Seoul, South Korea 

  • 2021 attendance: 2.5 million (+58%)
  • 2020 attendance: 1.6 million
  • 2019 attendance: 6 million

18. Nagashima Spa Land

Location: Kuwana, Japan

  • 2021 attendance: 3.6 million (+50%)
  • 2020 attendance: 2.4 million
  • 2019 attendance: 6 million

19. Europa-Park

Location: Rust, Germany

  • 2021 attendance: 3 million (+20%)
  • 2020 attendance: 2.5 million
  • 2019 attendance: 5.6 million

20. Ocean Park

Location: Hong Kong

  • 2021 attendance: 1.4 million (-36%)
  • 2020 attendance: 2.2 million
  • 2019 attendance: 5.7 million
Follow Your Dreams at hong kong disneyland
Credit: Disney

21. Hong Kong Disneyland

Location: Hong Kong

  • 2021 attendance: 2.8 million (+65%)
  • 2020 attendance: 1.7 million
  • 2019 attendance: 5.7 million

22. De Efteling

Location: Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands

  • 2021 attendance: 3.3 million (+14%)
  • 2020 attendance: 2.9 million
  • 2019 attendance: 5.3 million

23. Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris

Location: Marne-La-Vallee, France 

  • 2021 attendance: 1.9 million (+34%)
  • 2020 attendance: 1.4 million
  • 2019 attendance: 5.2 million

24. Oct Happy Valley

Location: Beijing, China

  • 2021 attendance: 4.9 million (+25%)
  • 2020 attendance: 4 million
  • 2019 attendance: 5.2 million

25. Chimelong Paradise

Location: Guangzhou, China

  • 2021 attendance: 3.9 million (+45%)
  • 2020 attendance: 2.7 million
  • 2019 attendance: 4.9 million
Credit: Disney

Top Water Parks in North America

Here are the top five water parks in North America, in order of 2019 attendance.

1. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park

Location: Orlando, Fla., USA

  • 2021 attendance: closed
  • 2020 attendance: closed
  • 2019 attendance: 2.25 million

Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon reopened on January 2, 2022, after being closed for almost two years due to the pandemic.

2. Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park at Walt Disney World Resort 

Location: Orlando, Fla., USA

  • 2021 attendance: 1.2 million
  • 2020 attendance: 316,000
  • 2019 attendance: 1.98 million

3. Universal’s Volcano Bay 

Location: Orlando, Fla., USA

  • 2021 attendance: 1.69 million
  • 2020 attendance: 551,000
  • 2019 attendance: 1.81 million
A large body of water
Credit: Universal

4. Aquatica

Location: Orlando, Fla., USA

  • 2021 attendance: 1.15 million
  • 2020 attendance: 528,000
  • 2019 attendance: 1.53 million

5. Schlitterbahn 

Location: New Braunfels, Texas, USA

  • 2021 attendance: 888,000
  • 2020 attendance: 451,000
  • 2019 attendance: 996,000

The Theme Park industry continues to recover from the pandemic, and operators have learned from this experience by emphasizing operational efficiencies more to squeeze out extra profits for their shareholders. Innovative will continue to be the main component within the industry, and those who don’t invest in their theme parks will, unfortunately, be at a disadvantage.

How many Theme Parks on the top 25 list have you attended? Please let us know what your favorite Theme Park is.

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