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 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.