Universal hopes Epic Universe will lure tourists for a week

Comcast’s leadership is optimistic the opening of the Epic Universe theme park at Universal Orlando in 2025 will make the resort a “week-long destination,” according to one executive.

Jason Armstrong, Comcast’s executive vice president, deputy CFO and treasurer, said the new theme park will increase profits at Universal Orlando as it adds to the two existing theme parks and the Volcano Bay water park.

“It turns it into potentially a week-long destination, which is a game-changer as it relates to international visitation and per cap[ita spending] and how we think about our hotels,” he said Thursday, adding that it is the parks division’s project he is most excited about.

Universal Orlando has helped lead Comcast’s parks division to record profits in recent quarters. While COVID restrictions and anxieties continue to keep guests from visiting Universal’s theme parks in Japan and China, the Orlando resort and Universal Studios Hollywood have seen attendance and visitor spending outpace 2019 amounts.

During a Thursday panel at the Bank of America Securities 2022 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference, Armstrong repeated executives’ perspectives that Comcast is optimistic about its theme park business going forward, even as international visitors have been slow to return.

Foreign guests typically make up around a third of visitors to Universal’s U.S. parks, Armstrong said. During Comcast’s most recent earnings call, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said international visitation is down by half of what it was pre-pandemic.

But Universal’s domestic theme parks have returned to “business as usual,” according to Armstrong, and visitors are showing no signs of slowing their in-park spending.

Though executives were concerned about higher gas prices and inflation causing guests to cut back, they have not seen it happen. This high guest spending is encouraging as Universal invests in several big projects at its parks worldwide, including Epic Universe and the 2023 opening of Super Nintendo World in Hollywood.

Armstrong said Comcast’s investments in the theme park industry include planning new attractions over the next three years.

“We’re very bullish on parks,” Armstrong said. “And we’ve got a lot of attractions that we’ve either put in place the last couple of years —that a lot of customers haven’t experienced and that’s still something that’s ahead of them — or attractions that are still sort of in the pipeline right now for ‘23, ‘24 [and] ‘25.”

[email protected] and @katievrice on Twitter