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In depth

Amusement Parks: TEA and ERA Post International Theme Park Numbers for 2008

Essential information for the theme park and attractions industry

(To access the full report, including charts, click: 2008 Attendance report , Download here)

"The numbers provided by the TEA/ERA Attraction Attendance Report are a resource that will help us all to work better and smarter in 2009 and to plan wisely for 2010, " says Themed Entertainment Association President Steve Thorburn of Thorburn Associates.

"Theme park and amusement park operators, developers, vendors, consultants, designers, and others in the visitor attractions industry need good information to build their businesses and make balanced decisions – now more than ever, " says Thorburn. "The data and analyses in this Report are also relied upon by journalists, and closely watched by parks enthusiasts."

The TEA/ERA Attraction Attendance Report identifies the top commercial theme parks and waterparks around the world and reflects their performance in 2008. Global attendance data is broken down by geographic region, by chain and by type of venue. This vital report is issued annually and jointly produced by the TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) – the leading international trade alliance for the creators of compelling experiences and places – and ERA (Economics Research Associates) – a top international consulting firm providing economic analysis for the entertainment and leisure industry worldwide.

Some key figures and information from the report
(All figures are for calendar year 2008 unless otherwise indicated.)

122.7 million: Total visits to the top 20 parks in North America, level with the performance in 2007. Between 2005 and 2008 the top 20 North American parks grew by a total of 3.9 percent.
57.4 million: Attendance for the top 20 European parks, representing a growth rate of 1.1 percent. Attendance growth of 7.6 percent from 2005-2008 for top European parks.
12.2 million: Visits to top 10 parks in Mexico and Latin America
66.9 million: Total attendance to top 10 Asian/Pacific Rim parks
189.6 million: The total theme park attendance for top 25 worldwide parks in 2008, down 0.3% from 2007
12.5 million: Combined visitation to the top 15 US waterparks, a growth of 1.8 percent from 2007
19.9 million: Total attendance to top 20 worldwide waterparks, up 1.4 percent from 2007.

Destination parks hit harder than regional parks by the recession…

"It is typical of destination parks to be impacted more by a recession than regional parks, because they are located farther away from their markets, and cost more to visit, " states John Robinett, Senior Vice President of ERA. "But it should also be noted that the negative growth didn’t actually occur until the fall. The regional parks were mostly closed by then while year-round destination parks were still open, so they took the fourth-quarter hit."

The above was evident in Europe as well as the US. ERA Director Lesley Morisetti notes, "In 2008, the European parks that are reliant on people taking a longer holiday were hit hardest because those locations are getting fewer visitors. Historically, in a recession the urban parks do much better than the resorts and tourist area parks, because people are more likely to take less costly day trips." But, she adds, "They must continue to provide what the customer perceives as good value for the money."

Overall, the numbers and the economy are pointing to lower attendance in 2009. "The decline looks as though it will last the majority of 2009 with some possibility of recovery by the end of the year or early 2010, " observes Edward Shaw, ERA Senior Associate.

Asia and especially China are bright spots with growing econo-mies and an expanding middle class in the medium- to long-term. The region is very far from saturated and its performance is different from more mature markets.

"There is lots of activity in theme parks, resorts, cultural facilities and other entertainment in Greater China, and the country’s economy, which has beengrowing by double digits since the early 1990s, is still projected to grow 6-8% this year, " observes Christian Aaen, Managing Director of ERA’s new office in Hong Kong.

India holds promise for the future. "India has historically kept out foreign investment but is now letting it in, " says Robinett. "The banking sector there is highly regulated so it wasn’t hit quite as hard."

"We believe a lot of growth in the industry going forward will be in Asia, " says Ray Braun, Senior Vice President, ERA.

Christian Aaen of ERA Hong Kong, notes that there is "a lot of development in the pipeline in Asia, including Legoland Malaysia, announced recently with a target opening in 2012, a Universal theme park on Sentosa Island opening in late 2009/10, and new KidZania attractions opening in Japan and Korea and planned elsewhere in Asia."

…and Reinvestment and Research still rule

Because of the role they play as an interlude from the pressures of daily life, parks and attractions tend to fare relatively well during a recession. It’s a good position to be in but requires an effort to maintain, in light of the changing economic environment and the evolving customer viewpoint. "Our models suggest that reinvestment probably has a stronger correlation with attendance than does the economy, " remarks Robinett. "When parks reinvest in a major new ride or show or zone, the increase in attendance tends to be in the high single digits, whereas a recession impacts in the low single digits."

In Japan, attendance numbers for parks were mostly flat or down, with the notable exception of Tokyo Disneyland (TDL) and Tokyo Disney Sea (TDS). "These two parks combined had another record year, sparked mainly by the 25th anniversary of Tokyo Disneyland but also helped by investment in strong marketing and new attractions, " said Christian Aaen. "TDL’s performance was counter-cyclical and impressive."

Based on ERAyoung girl on carousel‘s observation of past recessions, recovery is the reward of reinvestment: "Parks tend to bounce back rather quickly from a recession, " says Robinett. "You don’t see three-year drops; you see one- or two-year drops and then they bounce back." If it is not the time to develop or open a new ride, attraction or area, a park can still reinvest in training, customer service, maintenance, marketing – and revisit its pricing structure. And, it can prepare for the future.

"The down times are a perfect time to start planning and implementing reinvestment, and to look at ways of improving your product and the customer experience, " explains Robinett. "You have staff that may be underutilized, you have all the vendors and planning consultants who need work and have lower prices, you can buy materials at a cheaper rate. Smart money comes in at the bottom of a cycle."

David Camp, Director, ERA Europe/Middle East/Africa, em-phasized the need to constantly check in with the customer. "The industry in Europe experienced a fairly stable year, but with only a modest increase and a lot of concern for the future. Parks should monitor customers’ perception of value for money by conducting research, including regular customer surveys, and being reactive to them.

Regional Synopses

North America

"While faring well the first part of the year, many of the major parks saw a poor fourth quarter due to the recession. Destination parks, of which there are many in our Top 20, were hit harder than regional parks. This is typical in a downturn when consumers choose the lower cost, closer-to-home attractions. Many of the regional parks were closed for the fall and dodged the recession bullet, while the year-round destination parks suffered." – John Robinett, Senior Vice President, ERA


"While much of Europe stood still in 2008, strong marketing and strategic investment for the 15th Anniversary of Disneyland Paris saw attendance growth at both the Disney parks." – David Camp, Director, ERA

"In the past, recession has hit the parks most reliant on holiday tourists the hardest, as long holidays give way to shorter breaks and day visits. Attendance at regional and local parks has tended to hold up as a result. 2009 is likely to be challenging for everyone in terms of revenues, but the local and regional parks should perform the strongest in terms of attendance." – Lesley Morisetti, Director, ERA

Middle East

"Most projects in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates have been stopped due to the global economic downturn. This is something of a blessing in disguise. Initial plans were probably too aggressive and likely to have led to an oversupply. The ultimate result will likely be more aligned with market realities." – David Camp, Director, ERA

Asia/Pacific Rim

"In Japan, the Tokyo Disneyland Resort’s two parks achieved an impressive record season of 26.8 million due to the strong impact of Tokyo Disneyland’s 25th anniversary celebration events, new attractions and effective regional marketing despite the economic downturn. Ocean Park in Hong Kong continued its stellar performance, exceeding last year’s record attendance up 2.2 percent to above 5 million, fueled by ‘Year of the Panda’ and 5 effective seasonal events. Hong Kong saw continued growth in tourism from Mainland China despite some visa restrictions and other impacts on travel. Hong Kong Disneyland is re-bounding from the last couple of years’ lower than expected attendance, up almost 8 percent to 4.5 million. Lotte World reopened in Seoul this year after having been closed 6 months for improvements. China’s Happy Valley chain of regional parks continues to expand and do well."

"Most operators in Asia are cautiously optimistic for 2009. With the continued strong growth of the middle class in China and fundamentals in other markets, we expect significant development opportunities for the leisure and tourism industry in Asia, driven by Greater China." – Christian Aaen, Managing Director, ERA

Mexico/Latin America

"The 2008 season was challenging for most operators in Mexico and Latin America, with 5 out of 10 operators reporting declines in attendance with any significant reinvestment and difficult economic conditions. KidZania in Mexico City maintained its attendance and El Salitre Magico in Colombia and Parque de la Costa in Argentina exhibited good growth." – Christian Aaen, Managing Director, ERA


"U.S. waterparks were hit hard in the second half of 2008, as the recession wiped out gains from the first part of the year. Aquatica, which opened in March, was a bright spot, as it exceeded its opening year attendance target and grew the Orlando market." – Edward Shaw, Senior Associate, ERA

"Several Asian waterparks performed well in 2008. Chimelong Waterpark continued its strong growth, with expansion of the waterpark adding new attractions and capacity, which led to a 14 percent increase in attendance. This makes Chimelong the highest attended waterpark in Asia, just surpassing Everland’s Caribbean Bay in Korea. Caribbean Bay managed to increase attendance with the strong opening of a new attraction, "Wild River, " which was popular in the domestic market." – Christian Aaen, Managing Director, ERA

Amusement/Theme Park Attraction Chains

"The standouts were Merlin Entertainments and Parques Reunidos. Merlin was up an estimated 3 million, and Parques Reunidos’ acquisition of Palace Entertainment produced a big attendance jump from 12 million in 2007 to 24.9 million in 2008. Disney was up 1.5 million and Universal was down slightly, while Six Flags showed a small increase. In Asia, OCT Parks in China joined the Top 10 as no. 8 with 13.4 million" – Ray Braun, Senior Vice President, ERA

"In general, chains were either flat or slightly up, in line with the trends in their respective regions: North American parks were hit by the recession somewhat earlier than Asia, Mexico/Latin America and Europe. Overall, strong numbers in the first part of the year managed to balance out the weakening in the fourth quarter." – Edward Shaw, Senior Associate, ERA

About the numbers

ERA obtains the figures used to create the annual Attraction Attendance Report through a variety of sources, including statistics furnished directly by the operators, historical numbers, financial reports, the investment banking community and local tourism organizations, among others. The global market is studied as a whole, and each of its four main regions is also studied separately: North America, Mexico/Latin America, Europe and Asia. There is also a table of the top waterparks in the world and in the United States, and of the top global chain operators.

To be included in the study, a facility in general must be gated (entry ticket required). North American parks must have annual visits above one million. To be included on the top chains list, a chain operator must have theme parks in its portfolio. External and internal factors such as development, pricing, customer service, weather, demographics, investment/expansion, attendance and other dynamics that affect the estimated numbers are noted in comments within the charts.

About TEA

The TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) is an international nonprofit alliance founded in 1991 and based in Burbank, Calif. TEA represents some 7, 000 creative specialists, from architects to designers, technical specialists to master planners, scenic fabricators to artists, and builders to feasibility analysts working in more than 600 firms in 30 US states and 40 different countries. TEA presents the annual Thea Awards and the TEA Summit and hosts the annual SATE conferences (Story, Architecture, Technology, Experience). TEA also produces a variety of print and electronic publications, including the TEA/ERA Global Attraction Attendance Report, TEA Sourcebook, Thea Awards Program, TEA Project Management Guidelines, and TEA Annual & Directory.

About ERA

ERA was founded as Economics Research Associates in Southern California in 1958. The firm’s origins are in the commercial entertainment and attractions business. In the ensuing 50 years, ERA has built a diverse, global consulting business. The firm now has about 120 employees in 9 offices. We have completed nearly 18, 000 assignments. In late 2007, ERA joined the AECOM family of companies. AECOM is a global leader in professional and management services involving all aspects of the built and natural environment. Its various operating companies generate over $4 billion in annual revenues and employ more than 43, 000 people around the world, dramatically expanding ERA’s reach and service capability. ERA recently opened new offices in Hong Kong.

TEA/ERA Attraction Attendance Report for 2008 – Credits
Publisher: TEA (Themed Entertainment Association)
Executive Editor: Gene Jeffers
Research: Economics Research Associates (ERA)
Editor: Judith Rubin

© 2009 TEA/ERA. All Rights Reserved.

See also: TEA

TEA and ERA to Release International Theme Park Numbers for 2008
TEA Recognizes BRC Imagination Arts’ Projects, Executives
Prestigious Disney location for second TEA Europe Event

See also ERA:
ERA Opens New Office in Hong Kong
AECOM Acquires Economics Research Associates

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