Report: Disney witness increased attendance in 2009 despite downturn

Disney Parks & Resorts have once again come top of the attendance tables in 2009, with Busch Gardens Williamsburg being the only other top 20 park to witness an increase in attendance over the year.

Disney’s heavy discounting in North America paid off in terms of attendance figures, with the operator holding all of the top six positions in the United States top 25 according to the 2009 Theme Index report. Disney can also be pleased that all of their parks experienced increases in visitors over the period, which can again be attributed to promotions and discounting, as well as a strong local fan base for the two West Coast parks.

Universal were dealt a major blow in 2009, with attendance figures falling at all three of their United States parks. Of course many guests will be holding out on visiting Universal Orlando until this summer, with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter set top open. Combine this with the delayed opening of Hollywood Rip, Ride and Rockit and a poor economy and it’s easy to see why Universal parks suffered, at least in Central Florida.

The biggest increase in attendance was on the West Coast, with Disney’s California Adventure seeing a 9.5% increase in visitors in comparison to 2008. The largest percentage drop was at Sea World San Diego, with the California-based park witnessing a 12.6% fall in visitor numbers.

U.S Attendance figures

1. Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom: 17.2 million +1.0%
2. Disneyland: 15.9 million +8.0%
3. Epcot: 11.0 million +0.5%
4. Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 9.7 million +1.0%
5. Disney’s Animal Kingdom: 9.6 million +0.5%
6. Disney’s California Adventure: 6.1 million +9.5%
7. SeaWorld Orlando: 5.8 million -6.8%
8. Universal Studios Florida: 5.4 million -12.0%
9. Islands of Adventure: 4.5 million -13.8%
10. Universal Studios Hollywood: 4.3 million -6.0%
11. SeaWorld San Diego: 4.2 million -12.6%
12. Busch Gardens Tampa: 4.1 million -12.3%
13. Knott’s Berry Farm: 3.3 million -6.5%
14. Canada’s Wonderland: 3.2 million -6.5%
15. Kings Island: 3.0 million -4.0%
16. Cedar Point : 2.9 million -8.0%
17. Busch Gardens Williamsburg: 2.9 million +3.7%
18. Hersheypark: 2.8 million -1.2%
19. Six Flags Great Adventure: 2.6 million -4.6%
20. Six Flags Magic Mountain: 2.5 million -2.5%
(tie) Six Flags Great America: 2.5 million -6.3%

On an international scale the top 25 parks in the world saw 185.6 million people pass through their gates in 2009, a drop of 0.2% from the previous year. Interestingly, it was North America and Asia that saw major drops in attendance at their top 20 parks, with North American park seeing a drop of 1.1% and Asian parks witnessing a drop of 3.5%.

Meanwhile European and South American parks faired much better, with parks in Europe seeing attendances stay level with the year previous and Latin American parks seeing a relatively large increase of 1.3% on 2008’s numbers.

Tourists seemed more willing to cool down at water parks in the heat of the economic crisis, with the top 20 water parks in the world seeing an increase in attendance of 2.1% and the top 15 in the U.S witnessing a 3% increase in 2008.

Worldwide attendance figures

1. Magic Kingdom
2. Disneyland
3. Tokyo Disneyland: 13.6 million -4.5%
4. Disneyland Paris: 12.7 million +0.4%
5. Tokyo DisneySea: 12 million -4.0%
6. Epcot
7. Disney’s Hollywood Studios
8. Disney’s Animal Kingdom
9. Universal Studios Japan: 8.0 million -3.6%
10. Everland (South Korea): 6.2 million -6.5%
11. Disney’s California Adventure
12. SeaWorld Orlando
13. Universal Studios Florida
14. Ocean Park (Hong Kong): 4.8 million -4.6%
15. Nagashima Spa Land (Japan): 4.7 million +1.1%
16. Hong Kong Disneyland: 4.6 million +2.0%
17. Islands of Adventure
(tie) Yokohama Hakkeijima Spa Paradise: 4.5 million -0.7%
19. Universal Studios Hollywood
20. Lotte World (South Korea): 4.3 million +0.6%

Disney dominated the battle of the brands, with 119.1 million visitors going through Disney Park gates around the world, giving the company a huge lead on second-placed Merlin Entertainments who could boast just 38.5 million visitors over the same period across their parks.

It’s no surprise that Disney’s numbers were so high, especially when you consider the amount of discounts Disney offered their guests to attract them to their parks and resorts across the world. Of course the attendance numbers are far from telling the whole story, despite increases across the board Disney Parks & Resorts made big losses in 2009 thanks to the financial crisis, as did many major theme park operators.

But what the attendance figures do show is guests spending trends during economic hardship. What’s clear from the increases is Disney’s strategy of offering big discounts and conducting heavy advertising is a clear route to success when it comes to attracting customers and ensuring brand loyalty in tough financial times.

It will no doubt be interesting to see what the statistics say this time next year, with the economy (hopefully) improving, my prediction is Universal will see at least a slight bounce-back whilst Disney may suffer due to a lack of major investment in new attractions.


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