Splashy new rides and innovative marketing paid off this year for the nation's amusement parks, according to a year-end survey by an industry trade publication.
In its annual attendance study released Monday, Nashville, Tenn.-based Amusement Business magazine reported that total admissions to the top 40 parks surveyed was about 117.6 million--up 21% from last year's 97.2 million.
Leading the pack, once again, were Disney World and Disneyland.
Walt Disney World and its neighboring Epcot Center of Lake Buena Vista, Fla. was far and away the most popular attraction in the United States, with 26 million--or 8.75% more--patrons this year. Disneyland is ranked second, with 13.5 million customers, up 8% from the prior year.
As in last year's survey, California claimed half of the top 10 parks.
Weather a Factor
"The amusement park business has been extraordinarily good this year--and Southern California parks in particular have had an extremely good season. They all put a slug of money into their parks to promote them," said Nick Winslow of Torrance-based Harrison Price Co., economic consultants to the theme park industry.
Of the top 40 parks in the survey, 31 reported more patrons, three had no change and only six saw fewer customers.
With stiffer competition, most amusement parks have added splashy new rides, updated others and tried to appeal more to a wider audience--such as senior citizens. Good weather and better advertising also are factors in luring more customers to the parks.
"Parks as a whole are doing a better job of marketing themselves," said Stuart Zanville, marketing director at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park.
Southern California's biggest tourist attractions--Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Sea World of California and Universal Studios Tour--all retained their 1986 slots in this year's survey.
"The relevant point is that Knott's, Sea World and Universal are generally all at the same attendance level--which shows the area is extremely competitive," Zanville said.
Santa Cruz Up 10%
In Valencia, Six Flags Magic Mountain attracted 2.8 million this year--a 1% jump from 1986. Even so, the park was bumped one slot to No. 11 by a surprise contender, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a sort of West Coast version of Coney Island.
The Santa Cruz boardwalk, which has no paid gate, had 1987 attendance of 2.85 million, up 10% from last year--giving the park the biggest jump among the top 40.
Another California attraction, Marine World/Africa USA in Vallejo, had the largest percentage gain in the survey, with attendance climbing 39.75% this year to 1.4 million, compared to 1,050,000 last year.
The Amusement Business survey is widely regarded as the nation's leading published report on the amusement park industry. The numbers include complimentary admissions. Since some parks will not release exact attendance, some figures are estimates based on information released by the parks, the publication stated.