SeaWorld's Woes Linger; It Pins It On Orlando

SeaWorld yesterday primarily blamed its poor first half results on an overall downturn in tourism in Orlando — particularly a lack of Brazilians bearing fat wallets — but the lingering impact of the public relations fiasco over its keeping orca whales in captivity is still taking its toll on attendance, other observers suggest, despite plans announced in March to end its breeding program.

“The company, which induces killer whales, dolphins and sea lions to perform tricks to entertain the public, said 494,000 fewer people visited its parks in the three months to the end of June compared with the same period a year earlier,” writes the Guardian’s Rupert Neate with a telling twist of phrase that surely was not appreciated at SEAS’ corporate headquarters in Orlando.



“The 7.7% drop in attendance, from 6.5 to six million, knocked more than $16 million off SeaWorld’s quarterly earnings and spooked analysts and investors, sending the company’s shares down 14.2% to $12.74 by 11a.m. — a record low,” Neate reports. It closed at $12.88, a 13.21% tumble.

“The number of guests from Latin America, mainly from Brazil due to the country's political and economical turmoil, decreased 127,000 for the quarter, bringing the total decline in that market to 40% for the first half of the year, according to SeaWorld leaders,” writes Caitlin Dineen for the Orlando Sentinel.

George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, said the decline in Brazil has been expected. “Even though they do not represent a significant percentage of our overall visitation, they do generate a higher level of spending and length of stay, which could be impactful,” he tells Dineen.

Austen Hufford points out in the Wall Street Journal that there was an overall downturn in the Orlando market after Omar S. Mateen killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub on June 12.

“Hotel occupancy in Orlando is down about 2% this year and other theme-park operators are lowering ticket prices to boost attendance, CFO Peter Crage said on a conference call,” writes Bloomberg’s Christopher Palmeri. 

“We have also seen theme-park competitors lifting blackout dates on their passes for the remainder of the year and some going back to non-peak pricing to attract guests,” he said, adding that SeaWorld is extending hours and running special events. 

Overall, though, “brand issues are abating,” CEO Mandy maintained on the call, the Guardian’s Neate reports. “I think our California and Texas results show that. We have a Florida problem.”

Indeed, the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Lori Weisberg writes that “recent efforts to rehabilitate SeaWorld's image following years of criticism of how it treats its killer whales appears to be paying dividends in San Diego, where sharp revenue drop-offs have started to subside.” 

“In California, we’ve gone from minus 13% two years ago, minus 8% year to date last year and now we’re only at minus 2% and frankly, we have no large attraction this year,” Manby said on he call. “…We are seeing very strong indications in California that our brand issues are abating. I anticipate California growing next year for the first time in three years.”

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