Universal theme parks are expanding in the U.S. and around the world even as larger rival Disney continues to pour money into growing its parks and resorts. As long as returns are healthy, expect the theme park wars to rage on.
Universal’s parent company is looking to some dependable cash cows — dinosaurs and the boy wizard — for a theme park bump in 2019.
Jurassic World, an update of the old Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios Hollywood, opens this year, as does a new Harry Potter roller coaster at Islands of Adventure in Orlando. That ride replaces an older coaster that was torn down.
“We remain bullish on the outlook for our parks over the next several years as we’re investing in a robust pipeline,” Comcast Chief Financial Officer Michael Cavanagh said during an earnings call Wednesday.
In addition to the new rides in Florida and California, Universal Parks & Resorts is opening a new hotel in Orlando this summer. The theme park in Japan is adding a Nintendo-themed area next year, and an entirely new park is coming to Beijing. In 2018, Comcast’s NBCUniversal segment increased its capital spending more than 15 percent year-over-year to $1.7 billion, “primarily reflecting investment at theme parks,” the company said in a statement.
“We’re confident in the long-term growth potential at our parks with an exciting road map as our partnership with Nintendo debuts at Universal Studios Japan in 2020 and we bring a brand-new, large park to Beijing the next year,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said Wednesday.
Executives did not reveal anything about a long-anticipated new park in Orlando, though they have said in past calls that they are “looking at” adding another park to the resort complex there.
“We love the theme park business, it’s one of our best, most consistent businesses,” NBCUniversal CEO Stephen Burke said in July. “And we think we have a lot of very long runway and that another gate in Florida would have the advantage of turning Florida from a two-to-three-day destination to potentially a weeklong destination.”
Already, Universal has been adding to its on-site hotels to get visitors to stay longer without decamping to competitors. Roberts said that occupancy has topped 90 percent even as rooms have more than doubled over the last five years. The first phase of a budget-friendly 2,800-room hotel, Endless Summer Resort, opens this year.
For the fourth quarter of 2018, Universal’s theme park revenue increased 3.5 percent to $1.5 billion, with adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization up less than a percent to $666 million.
Cavanagh said domestic parks saw record results from their annual Halloween Horror Nights events, which require special tickets. But Universal Studios Japan proved a drag on results as it continued to recover from natural disasters that struck in the third quarter.
For the full year, theme park revenue jumped 4.4 percent to $5.7 billion year-over-year as visitors spent more per day. Adjusted earnings were up 3 percent to $2.5 billion.
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Photo credit: Blue, from the Jurassic World franchise, was added to Universal parks in Florida and California last year. Universal Studios Hollywood is opening a Jurassic World addition this year. Universal Parks & Resorts