Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Attraction Attendance 2008

TEA/ERA figures released

The TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) and ERA (Economics Research Associates) have just released their eagerly-awaited Attraction Attendance report for 2008, and the figures reveal that destination theme parks were hit harder than regional parks as the recession took hold late last year.

Leading the report again as the world’s most popular theme park is Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida, where attendance was flat compared to 2007 with just over 17 million guests. The biggest gain in Orlando was just 1% (at Epcot), while SeaWorld and Islands of Adventure recorded respective falls of 2.9% and 2.4%.

“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.”

This was evident in Europe as well as the USA. “In 2008, the European parks that are reliant on people taking a longer holiday were hit hardest because those locations are getting fewer visitors,” notes Lesley Morisetti at ERA’s London office. “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.”

Visits to the world’s top 25 parks in 2008 totalled 186 million, down 0.4% from 2007. Combined attendance at the top 20 parks in North America was flat compared to 2007 at 122.7 million, after growing 3.9 percent between 2005 and 2008. In Europe, attendance was up slightly, with the top 20 parks recording a combined attendance of 57.4 million, a growth rate of 1.1%. But their popularity is easily eclipsed by the top 10 parks in Asia/Pacific Rim, which attracted a combined 69.9 million guests (Disney’s parks in Japan contributing heavily to this total). The top 10 parks in Mexico and Latin America attracted 12.2 million guests.

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, although Robinett urges operators not to ignore reinvesting: “Our models suggest that reinvestment probably has a stronger correlation with attendance than 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.”

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 ERA senior associate Edward Shaw. Asia and especially China are bright spots with growing economies 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 been growing 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.

“There is a lot of development in the pipeline in Asia,” he continues, “including Legoland Malaysia, announced recently with a target opening in 2012, a Universal theme park on Sentosa Island in Singapore opening in late 2009/10, and new KidZania attractions opening in Japan and Korea and planned elsewhere in Asia.” India also holds promise for the future, it is noted. “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.”

“Parks tend to bounce back rather quickly from a recession,” concludes 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 revisiting its pricing structure. 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.”

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.

To read the full report, including charts for each territory, click here. To download it, click here.


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,” says ERA senior vice-president John Robinett. “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.”

Top 3 parks: Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Florida (attendance = 17,063,000); Disneyland, California; Epcot at Walt Disney World, Florida (10,935,000).


“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 in Paris,” reports David Camp of ERA’s London office.

“In the past, recession has hit the parks most reliant on holiday tourists the hardest,” adds fellow ERA director Lesley Morisetti, “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.”

Top 3 parks: Disneyland Park, Paris (12,688,000); Europa-Park, Germany (4,000,000); Tivoli, Copenhagen, Denmark (3,972,000). Note: Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, England, did not release visitor figures for 2008 due to a change in admission policy during the season. In 2007 it was the second most popular park in Europe with 5.5 million guests.

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, ERA director.

No charts available.

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,” notes Christian Aaen, of ERA’s new office in Hong Kong.

“Ocean Park in Hong Kong continued its stellar performance, exceeding last year’s record attendance up 2.2& to above 5 million, fuelled by ‘Year of the Panda’ and five effective seasonal events. Hong Kong Disneyland is re-bounding from the last couple of years’ lower than expected attendance, up almost 8%. 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.”

Top 3 parks: Tokyo Disneyland, Japan (14,293,000); Tokyo DisneySea, Japan (12,498,000); Universal Studios Japan (8,300,000).

Mexico/Latin America

“The 2008 season was challenging for most operators in Mexico and Latin America, with five 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, ERA.

Top 3 parks: Six Flags Mexico, Mexico City (2,020,000); Playcenter, Sao Paulo, Brazil (1,600,000); La Feria de Chapul Tepec, Mexico City (1,473,000).


“US waterparks were hit hard in the second half of 2008 as the recession wiped out gains from the first part of the year,” observes ERA senior associate Edward Shaw. “Aquatica, which opened in March, was a bright spot, as it exceeded its opening year attendance target and grew the Orlando market.”

“Several Asian waterparks performed well in 2008,” Christian Aaen. “Chimelong Waterpark continued its strong growth, with expansion leading to a 14% 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 opening of a new attraction.”

Top 3 parks waterparks worldwide: Typhoon Lagoon at Walt Disney World, Florida (2,059,000); Blizzard Beach at Walt Disney World, Florida (1,891,000); Chimelong Water Park, Guangzhou, China (1,600,000).

Amusement/Theme Park Attraction Chains

“The standouts were Merlin Entertainments and Parques Reunidos,” notes ERA senior vice-president Ray Braun. “Merlin was up an estimated 3 million, and Parques Reunidos’ acquisition of Palace Entertainment in the USA 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 in China joined the Top 10 as number eight with 13.4 million guests.

Top 3 chains: Walt Disney Attractions (combined attendance 118 million), Merlin Entertainments (35.2 million), Universal Parks & Resorts (25.7 million).

To read the full report, including charts for each territory, click here. To download it, click here.

For details of the 2007 report, click here.

For details of the 2007 report, click here.

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