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According to Ray Braun, senior vice-president for AECOM,

we must turn to more recent figures provided by the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM Economics in the 2009 Attraction Attendance Report for a more up to date overview. Data from the report, which remains one of the most

accurate amusement industry bellwethers, clearly indicates the US’ dominance, with 10 of the country’s resorts - including Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Epcot and SeaWorld - ranking among the world’s top 20 leading theme parks. Yet, a closer look at the statistics unveils a less than rosy picture for the country. “The international theme park and attractions industry is

coming off a challenging year due to the global economic recession,” said TEA president Steve Thorburn at the beginning of 2010. John Robinett, senior vice-president of AECOM, added:

“The brunt of the North American recession was felt in (the) numbers. The two major markets, Los Angeles and Orlando, suffered from weak tourism and both saw single and sometimes double digit declines in their major parks - the exception being Disney which countered the trend through aggressive discounting and marketing.” At ground level, leading manufacturers serving the

theme park and waterpark sectors have also noted the effects of the downturn. “The number of the visitors has dropped sharply,” said Kubilay Alpdogan, sales manager for Polin Waterparks and Pool Systems, which has installed aquatic centres across the country. “Over the last two years we have heard many loss announcements from the big parks and witnessed many acquisitions. Some of the already-started projects went on slowly and some others were frozen before getting off the ground.”

Forever looking forward Despite the myriad challenges presented by reduced

consumer spending and budgets, the TEA/AECOM report states that attraction operators managed to weather the storm at a level equal or ahead of many other industries. “This year’s attendance numbers show that parks are

weathering the recession and positioning themselves for the recovery,” said Robinett. “We expect next year to show stronger figures with continued economic recovery and pent-up demand.”


“Most parks felt the impact of the deepest recession since the Great Depression. The strategies parks employed to sustain numbers and make the best of a troubled situation underscore the basic fundamentals of good business in the visitor attractions industry: reinvestment in the guest experience, creative targeted marketing and building the relationship with the customer.” Indeed, in the face of the downturn the figures from 2009

also reflect the resilience and creativity of the US theme parks industry and point the way to future growth. Jorge Mochkovsky, co-owner and director of Sacoa Playcard, said: “What we can notice from our standpoint is that operators are coping, but they are being extremely cautious with their spending; every dollar invested is looked at twice before spent. Nonetheless, for our company, the US market has been steady. We did notice the crisis but the overall result has been good. In fact the US market has increased (and) although some operators seemed to be on hold at the beginning, they are now fully active. “Many chain stores have decided to start using debit

card systems, or to migrate to Playcard in cases where they had already tried out another system, plus some smaller operations are realising their best bet for the future is to have control over their business, as well as the endless marketing possibilities offered by the Playcard system.” The innovative and creative strategies adopted by US

operators have been noted across the industry and this is perhaps what has helped the country remain at the forefront of the industry. “The sluggish economy decreases available discretionary

income and therefore greatly impacts family vacation decisions,” noted Steve Levine, president and CEO of US waterpark equipment supplier Splashtacular. “Local community or municipal pool ‘parks’ - long viewed as the ‘town babysitter’ - have continued to evolve in response to needs for increased appeal, with more slides, more attractions and more interactivity. Splashtacular continues to work closely with aquatic designers and pool builders on innovations that increasingly blur the lines between commercial and municipal projects, with more than 1,000 installations throughout the US.” Destination parks rely on a combination of tourists and

locals, but in 2009 these mega resorts had fewer of the former coming through the turnstiles. Total visitation to Orlando in 2009, for instance, was down nine per cent on the previous year. Destination parks endeavoured to maintain their attendance totals at healthy levels via strategies that

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