Total Attendance Is Not Enough When Measuring Theme Park Health

The one operational metric provided by all park-managers, total attendance, may not provide the best picture of overall health of a park or system

Line length isn't everything when it comes to the health of theme park businesses

Leisure investors now, more than ever, need the ability to quantify the real-time health of theme parks, and using total visitors alone may provide an incomplete view despite being the primary operational metric reported by all park-managers. With so many variables affecting attendance like timing of holidays, weather, changes in academic school calendars, and the release of new attractions, among others, including public health concerns, better, more timely metrics are needed to confidently measure park health.

At M Science, in addition to forecasting key quarterly KPIs, e.g. revenue, attendance, per caps, we also like to view a trailing year of unique visitors to respective park operators (or individual parks themselves) – and use that as a measure of overall customer engagement, particularly given a unit of attendance is not always equal. For instance, season pass holders additional visits do not gain additional admissions revenue upon each visit but still contribute to total park attendance numbers.

This unique visitors index provides a deeper look into estimated park performance trends that might not be obvious in total attendance numbers.

For some companies, unique park attendance performance can be a roller coaster

Taking a look at Six Flags, while we were calling for a miss in Q4 (published December 12, 2019), we also mentioned deteriorating unique customer trends, which was corroborated on the company’s most recent earnings call, as management noted unique guests were down in 2019 vs. 2018.

“And yes, the unique visitors were down in 2019 versus 2018 on the base business. And that's why I said our problem to solve is focusing on that base business, investing back in the brands and the right parks and the right experience to get that back up.”

-Michael Spanos, President, CEO, Six Flags

Compare Six Flags' 2019 performance to Cedar Fair, whose management highlighted in their Q4 2019 earnings report on February 19th that unique visitors were up 6% in 2019 compared to 2018, roughly in line with our analysis, published February 13th :

“We are equally pleased to report strong consumer response to our new attractions and events, help produce a 6% increase in unique visits or just shy of 1 million visitor lift over the prior year. While growing our season passholder base and increasing total visits are important elements of our strategic plan, increasing our unique visitor count remains critical to the sustained long-term growth of the business.”

-Brian C. Witherow, CFO, Cedar Fair

Finally, SeaWorld management also mentioned on its February 26, Q4 2019 earnings call that unique visitors grew in 2019, a trend which we had noted as early as December 12th.

“I think in general, if you look at the full year of 2019, we did have an increase in number of unique visitors. I don't know that we're seeing any significant differences in how many times people visit. We're just pleased overall that more people have a product that gets them into the park effectively on a year-round basis and that's something that we've obviously worked hard and we'll continue to focus on.”

-Marc G. Swanson, CFO, Sea World

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