SeaWorld follows Disney playbook, posting solid theme park recovery numbers

Visitors are also paying more at the parks.

SeaWorld Entertainment’s financial books are in strong shape emerging from the pandemic as the company’s leader vowed to keep growing the business.

Attendance at the company’s 12 theme parks hit 3.4 million visitors from January through March — the highest first-quarter attendance since 2013, SeaWorld disclosed. There is also $380 million in cash in the company’s coffers, which is expected to increase as the company enters the busy summertime season.

As SeaWorld’s CEO Marc Swanson gave the good news to investors during a Thursday earnings call, Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond announced the county hotel tax revenue hit a record-breaking $38.6 million in March. The 6-percent tax is charged on hotel rooms and short-term stays, giving a snapshot of how well Orlando’s tourism industry is doing.

“Most notably,” Diamond said in a news release. “These were the highest monthly collections ever, shattering the previous high set in March 2019 by $7.3 million or 23%.”

If there was any doubt tourism was rebounding in the theme park capital, Orlando International Airport recorded more than 4.14 million passengers in March, the highest single month on record since the airport first started collecting those statistics in 1992, according to Visit Orlando CEO Casandra Matej.

For Orlando-based SeaWorld Entertainment, the company generated $270.7 million in first-quarter revenue, a big period for its Florida parks that opened a pair of heavily anticipated roller coasters previously delayed by the pandemic. SeaWorld Orlando debuted Ice Breaker while Busch Gardens Tampa Bay launched Iron Gwazi.

Visitors also are paying more at the parks.

SeaWorld raised prices on admissions and park items by double digits, Swanson said. The company is also still dealing with staffing issues and relying more on international workers — following Disney World’s playbook — to help operate its parks, Swanson said.

“We are working hard to find new and better ways to attract, motivate and retain talent, including expanding our use of international workers in our parks, something that we didn’t take advantage of as much as our competitors may have in the past,” Swanson said during the earnings call.

Swanson did not mention increasing employees’ compensation, something both Disney World and Universal Orlando have done in recent months as the hospitality industry has dealt with labor shortages.

Swanson also hinted big announcements could be in the works.

“We continue to make progress on our organic initiatives related to growth initiatives (on) hotels, new parks, and international expansion, and expect to have more to share later in the year,” Swanson said.

Swanson added a little more insight into why hotels could be a good fit for SeaWorld Entertainment.

“One advantage is we have land. And so, if you look across our parks, there’s some great locations to put a hotel,” Swanson said. “To me, one of the key things is do you have the right location and the right land? And I think we definitely have that.”

SeaWorld and Comcast-owned Universal theme parks both posted strong first quarters. It’s the Walt Disney Company’s turn to share its latest financial numbers when it releases earnings on May 11 after the market closes.

The call is expected to be closely followed since Disney CEO Bob Chapek will likely be speaking to shareholders for the first time since the state of Florida rescinded Disney World’s special government last month.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .



    May 5, 2022 at 2:10 pm

    As the economy goes into recession and record high real estate development prices, Sea World is a little late to the hotel/condo building party.

    International travel is significantly down from previous years. Once the domestic “savage-travel” demand is satisfied by the tourists who have been “locked-up” and are looking for an escape, I see a downturn in travel and a glut of unsold hotel rooms and condos waiting for bargain hunters in the next year.

    Rising interest rates on consumer debt – especially variable rate credit cards, stubbornly high fuel prices and overarching food inflation will have consumers directing their spending toward those purchases while vacations drop down the totem pole.

    Where are those international travelers again – oh yeah, being bussed in from Melbourne! – at double the distance than what Sanford is…lol

    Gosh, I sound like such a Debbie Downer today…


  • erik

    May 9, 2022 at 4:47 am

    The article is amazing, I found it informative for the readers. I hope to find more like this in the future.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704