Skift Take

These numbers show that while Disney still sits comfortably on top, its fiercest rival is showing strong growth.

Disney’s Magic Kingdom remains the busiest theme park on earth.

The Central Florida park saw attendance grow 6 percent in 2015 to nearly 20.5 million guests, while California’s Disneyland — which started a 60th anniversary celebration last year —  increased 9 percent to almost 18.3 million.

Those numbers were released Wednesday in the annual Global Attractions Attendance Report produced by Themed Entertainment Association and the economics practice at AECOM, an engineering firm.

“Last year we said everything was looking good in the Americas and poised for moderate growth — but 2015 blew the roof off moderate,” Brian Sands, AECOM’s vice president of economics for the Americas, said in the report. “This market did really well.”

Attendance at the top 25 parks worldwide reached 236 million, a 5.4 percent jump in 2015.

The rankings shifted a bit, with Disneyland in California taking over the second spot from Tokyo Disneyland, which dropped to third.

Universal Studios Japan jumped a spot to claim the No. 4 territory after an 18 percent leap. The park drew 13.9 million guests last year; the report attributes that gain to the full-year presence of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened in July of 2014.

The boy wizard also drove gains at Universal Studios in Orlando, where a Diagon Alley section section opened in mid-2014. Attendance there increased 16 percent to nearly 9.6 million last year, moving the park from 11th place in 2014 to No. 10 in 2015.

SeaWorld in Orlando remained in the same perch as last year: 22, with almost 4.8 million guests.

Many theme park operators don’t release attendance for specific parks. The TEA/AECOM report gets figures from several places: numbers from the operators, historic figures, financial reports, investment banking sources, local tourism organizations, and professional estimates.

So far this year, the major theme park operators are not reporting significant increases in attendance. In its first-quarter earnings call, Universal parent company Comcast said guest attendance was “stable” — though the opening of a Harry Potter-themed world at the Hollywood park in April is expected to drive numbers up.

The Walt Disney Company said in its earnings report for the quarter ending April 2 that domestic attendance was “relatively flat,” increasing at Disneyland in California and dropping a bit in Florida. The entertainment company’s CEO said earlier this month that a new strategy of setting higher prices for busier times has resulted in moderate attendance dips.

Sands wrote that he expects more from the domestic parks in the coming years, especially as Universal starts to leverage its recently announced acquisition of DreamWorks Animation.

“We expect to see Disney realize many opportunities to satisfy guests over the next few years as Star Wars attractions, Star Wars lands and Star Wars character interactions unfold,” he wrote.

The biggest theme park development this year will be the opening of Shanghai Disneyland next month, which the report called a “watershed event.”

“Once it has been open a full year, we will have a better sense of when the Asian parks market will overtake North America altogether — whether it will be around 2020 as we’ve previously estimated, or sooner,” it said. “As things continue to evolve and mature in Asia, we’ll see shifting ownership and consolidation of smaller parks into larger chains as part of the process.”


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Tags: disney, theme parks, universal

Photo credit: Magic Kingdom at sunset. Jeff Krause / Flickr

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