Theme Index: Disney breaks 150 million visitor mark as operator rules over theme park world
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Theme Index: Disney breaks 150 million visitor mark as operator rules over theme park world

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Disney continues to reign supreme in the world of theme parks, with the operator gaining close to 10 million additional visitors through the year – 84 million ahead of its nearest rival in the latest TEA/AECOM Theme Index.

Disney saw a 6.8 per cent increase in visitors – up to 150 million in 2017 from 140.4 million in the previous year.

Merlin Entertainments came a distant second, upping its visitation year-on-year to 66 million visitors – a 7.8 per cent or 5 million visitor increase. Universal rounded out the top three, with a 4.4 per cent increase of just over 2 million visitors at its closes in on 50 million for the year across its theme park portfolio.

For the top 10 theme parks overall, attendance growth was up a combined 8.6 per cent to 475.8 million visitors – an increase of 37.5 million. Within the top 10, fourth-placed OCT Parks China enjoyed the biggest growth, increasing visitation by 32.9 per cent to 42.9 million visitors – a staggering rise of 10.6 million people.

For individual theme park attractions, Disney expectedly also sits on top of the pile, with the top three most-visited all its properties and eight of the top 10 also Disney attractions.

The most-visited park – Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida – saw a slight increase of 0.3 per cent to 20.4 million visitors. Disneyland in California was second with 18.3 million visitors – a 2 per cent rise – while Tokyo Disneyland upped its visitor figures by 0.4 per cent in third, welcoming 16.6 million people to its park.

Outside of Disney, fourth-placed Universal Studios Japan saw its visitation rise by 3 per cent, with 14.9 million visitors in 2017. Universal Studios in Orlando also saw a slight rise of 2 per cent, with numbers up to 10 million. Due to being opened for the first time in 2016, Shanghai Disneyland breaks the top 10, coming eighth with 11 million visitors in its first full year of operation.

Mainland China, which is currently the focal point for theme park development in Asia, helped buoy the region in terms of attendance growth by 5.5 per cent. Many new parks, Shanghai Disney leading the way, experienced double-digit growth year-on-year.

Overall, visitation increased to 134.2 million visitors in the Asia-Pacific region, though it wasn't all plain sailing, as parks in Korea – particularly Lotte World and Samsung Everland – were hit hard. The report attributed visitor declines in that area to "geopolitical events that discouraged tourism from Mainland Chinese" – a key tourist demographic for Korea.

"We have forecast for several years that China would become the largest theme park market in the world by 2020," said Chris Yoshii, vice president of Asia-Pacific for AECOM.

"That forecast is still on track, especially with Universal Studios Beijing due to open around that time, and many other projects still in the pipeline.

"The success of Shanghai Disney has been very encouraging, showing developers that they should invest in world-class and best-in-class projects, and the market will respond. Having a theme park is still seen as an important asset to a modern city in China, and we are going to continue to see new projects and new announcements."

Mapping theme parks worldwide, Florida is still the major hotbed for theme park goers, with 75.6 million people visiting its six major parks. Japan follows in second with 51 million visitors spread over four major operations, while California and its three parks welcomed 36.9 million visitors.

"The mega-destination that is Orlando saw major attractions open at both Disney (Pandora – The World of Avatar) and Universal (Volcano Bay) in 2017," said John Robinett, senior vice president, economics, Americas for AECOM.

"After a fairly flat 2016, the industry resumed its historic pace of growth in 2017 fueled by Disney, China, and Indoor Entertainment Centers.

"China now generates about a quarter of the major operators’ overall attendance. Global attraction attendance at the major operators is now almost half a billion visits a year.

"Representing a third of North American attendance – exceeding 150 million visits for the first time – Orlando should continue to develop with US$10bn of investment in future attractions, RDE (retail, dining and entertainment zones), and hotels slated for the next five years."

A collaboration of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and the economics practice at AECOM, the 12th TEA/AECOM Theme Index is an annual study of global attractions attendance, looking at theme parks, theme park groups, waterparks and museums.

To read the full report, click here.

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Disney continues to reign supreme in the world of theme parks, with the operator gaining close to 10 million additional visitors through the year – 84 million visitors ahead of its nearest rival in the latest TEA/AECOM Theme Index.

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