Orlando theme parks’ attendance up in 2021

Attendance rebounded significantly at Disney, Universal and SeaWorld theme parks in 2021, according to the annual report released by TEA/AECOM. The figures compare last year’s trends with pandemic-hampered 2020, which experienced monthslong shutdowns and various travel restrictions.

While attractions attendance was up 72% globally, the U.S. figures went up 146% over 2020, the first year of widespread COVID conditions and operational interruptions, according to the report. U.S. attendance is at 67% of the industry’s peak numbers of 2019.

The TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index is created through multiple sources, including statistics furnished by parks and attractions, historical numbers, financial reports, the investment banking community, tourism organizations and “professional estimates where necessary,” the report says.

“Pent-up demand and reduced worries about COVID during the summer of 2021 led to the US outperforming every other market,” the report reads.

There was great disparity in operating conditions and travel rules from country to country and state to state. For the second year, the report posted its attendance estimates, but it did not re-rank the parks, leaving them in 2019′s order.

But looking at the attendance figures, it would appear that Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World would retain the top spot globally. Its 2021 attendance was 12.69 million, an increase of 83% from 2020, when the resort was closed for four months. The theme park’s 2019 mark was 20.96 million guests.

After that, it gets jumbled from previous years’ reports, with some gaudy triple-digit increases at multiple attractions. Universal’s Islands of Adventure had 9.08 million visitors, a 127% increase, which would leapfrog it past Disneyland of Anaheim, California, the frequent runner-up in attendance rankings. (Disneyland had 8.57 million visitors in 2021, up 133%.) Universal Studios in Orlando recorded 8.99 million visitors, an increase of 119% from 2020.

At Disney World, Hollywood Studios’ attendance level went up 134% to 8.59 million, topping Epcot’s 7.75 million (up 92%) and Animal Kingdom’s 7.19 million (up 73%) for 2021.

SeaWorld Orlando’s attendance for 2021 was 3.05 million, up 91%, while Busch Gardens Tampa Bay had 3.21 million, an increase of 149%.

Disney's Blizzard Beach was open in 2021, but has been closed the bulk of '22 as Typhoon Lagoon reopened.

Among water parks, Universal’s Volcano Bay had 1.69 million guests, an increase of 207%. Disney’s Blizzard Beach had 1.20 visitors, up 280%. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon, the most visited water park in the U.S. in 2019, was closed throughout 2021. In early 2022, Blizzard Beach closed and Typhoon Lagoon reopened.

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Aquatica, SeaWorld’s water park, had 1.15 million visitors in 2021, an increase of 117%

Central Florida’s major attractions do not release attendance figures to the public.

“With perhaps the notable exception of China, the marketplace has continued to bounce back this year,” John Robinett, senior vice president at AECOM, wrote. “Although challenges like labor, supply chain, and inflation continue, the industry is poised to continue its comeback in 2022 and 2023.”

The report also delves into operating trends such as changes to annual-pass programs, a surge by regional parks, the importance of intellectual properties, variable pricing, labor challenges and technology shifts such as touchless payments and virtual queuing.

“As vaccine rollout expanded, capacity restrictions loosened, and consumers’ attitudes toward traveling and gathering shifted, one pattern seemed to ring true across the board: that attendance trended upward from the beginning of 2021 to the end of the year,” Francisco Refuerzo, senior analyst of economics, said in the report.

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