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Legoland to Curtail Schedule, Cut Staff

Leisure: The economy and attendance slump have prompted the park to close on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

January 08, 2002|BONNIE HARRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citing an uncertain economy and a drop in attendance since Sept. 11, Legoland California said Monday that it will close its gates on Tuesdays and Wednesdays until the summer.

The cutback at the Carlsbad park will cost 30 of the 400 regular employees their jobs. The move comes after Legoland and other theme parks concluded an unexpectedly strong holiday season, fueled by heavy discounting and an improvement in consumer confidence.

Legoland officials have said the last two weeks of December were the busiest of the year.

Even so, Legoland's overall attendance last year was about 1.4 million, or 6% less than in 2000, said the park's president, Bill Haviluk. Before tourism declined as a result of the terrorist attacks, he said, the park was on track to meet or exceed attendance from the previous year.

Attendance has slumped at most theme parks. So far, Legoland is the only park in the area to cut days out of its operating schedule.

"We really had to evaluate our operational efficiencies after [Sept. 11] and it became quite hard to justify 365 days," Haviluk said. "Besides the regular travel and tourism crisis concerns, we have another issue at Legoland and that is our market. It's kids 12 and under, and when the kids are in school, they're not here."

It was unclear whether the five-day schedule during the off-season would be permanent, but Haviluk said he expected it to remain in place at least a year or two. The new schedule takes effect Jan. 15.

Since the 128-acre park opened in spring 1999, Haviluk said, Tuesdays and Wednesdays consistently have been the slowest days of the week--with fewer than 1,000 visitors. By closing on those days, Haviluk estimates, the park will save 12% to 15% in operating costs.

The move didn't surprise industry watchers, who said Legoland, owned by Lego Co. based in Billund, Denmark, had been the smallest park in the country to keep a year-round operating schedule.

"This is a slow time anyway for theme parks," said Tim O'Brien, senior editor of Amusement Business, an industry publication. "I think if we saw them cutting days in the summertime, we'd know they were in trouble," he said. "But they're not doing that. They're basically closing 18% of the year and saving 15% as a result. Not a bad deal."

Most regional parks either shut down in the off-season or stay open only on the weekends. Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia is closed on most weekdays from Labor Day through Memorial Day. Universal Studios and Disneyland remain open year-round but cut back hours during the slow season.

Some parks, such as Disney's California Adventure, restrict certain attractions as part of the seasonal scaling back. One section of DCA, the Hollywood Backlot, currently opens at least 90 minutes after the main park opens.

But Legoland's Haviluk said he didn't want to shut down attractions for the sake of staying open all year. "We didn't want people to come to Legoland and not get to see all of Legoland," he said.

Haviluk said he does not expect to lose visitors as a result of the scaled-back schedule. The Legoland park in England experimented with the five-day schedule without an effect on attendance, he said. Neither that park nor the third Legoland, in Denmark, is open year-round.

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