Universal profitable again as theme parks face new uncertainty
Universal turns a profit, for the first time ina year. Image via Universal.

'Obviously, with COVID, you just don't know ...'

Universal theme parks are profitable again, the first time the attractions hit that milestone since the pandemic brought the industry to a halt last year, Comcast’s leader said Thursday.

Comcast’s theme park division generated nearly $1.1 billion in quarterly revenue — a meteoric rise compared to only $136 million a year ago, the company reported in its second-quarter earnings released Thursday.

The Orlando crowds returned to the 2019 levels even though virtually no international travelers came through the turnstiles, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said, calling the rebound “somewhat faster than I thought it would happen.”

One big attendance draw is the VelociCoaster, the thrill ride that officially opened last month at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The roller coaster based on the “Jurassic World” franchise goes up to 70 mph, with Comcast’s chief financial officer Mike Cavanagh saying the ride generated “some of the highest guest satisfaction scores we’ve had.”

“Orlando has had exceptionally strong demand,” Cavanagh said, “We’re optimistic that our domestic parks are on a path to return to historic levels of profitability, but we need international visitation to resume, which remains dependent on COVID-related travel restrictions being lifted.”

Universal Orlando theme parks shut down completely for nearly three months last year and then reopened with tight capacity limits. A year after the reopening, Universal Orlando was back to full capacity, leaders have previously said.

But the theme parks’ rebound comes when concerns still linger over the pandemic, especially as Delta variant cases spread in Central Florida and the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its earlier recommendation this week and now encourages people, whether vaccinated or not, to wear masks inside public spaces again.

In Orange County, 1,371 people tested positive Tuesday for COVID-19, the most in a single day since early in the pandemic, according to county Mayor Jerry Demings‘ executive order declaring a state of local emergency.

Some of Orlando’s attractions already reacted.

Walt Disney World, which previously loosened many of its early pandemic safety rules, will now require visitors to wear masks indoors again starting Friday.

During Thursday’s earnings call, Comcast executives didn’t say if they plan to amend their safety precautions at their theme parks too.

“We encourage all our guests to follow CDC guidelines and local directives to wear face coverings while indoors across our destination. Beginning Saturday, all Team Members will wear face coverings while working indoors in guest areas, and all will continue to practice social distancing,” Universal said in an emailed statement Thursday evening.

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell acknowledged the pandemic’s uncertainty with his theme parks as Comcast aims to build on the profitability and rising attendance from the second quarter.

“Obviously, with COVID, you just don’t know … But so far, the trajectory is really good, and we expect that to continue,” Shell said, “I would say the thing we’re most pleased with is the protocols have worked, and we’ve been able to keep people safe and keep our workers safe and keep our guests safe.”

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is a journalist who covers theme parks and Florida tourism. She previously worked at the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Toledo Blade and the Kalamazoo Gazette. She graduated from Michigan State University.


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