Attendance at North America's 50 most popular theme and amusement parks rose almost 4% in 2004, the first increase since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks slowed the U.S. travel and tourism industry, according to estimates released Monday by trade publication Amusement Business and research firm Economics Research Associates.
An estimated 169.1 million visitors rode thrill rides and romped around with costumed characters at the North American parks, Amusement Business and Economics Research said in an annual survey.
The increase was helped by a jump in international visitors at destination parks, spurred by a weakening U.S. dollar, and a rebound in U.S. travel and tourism, industry observers say.
But 2004's figure still fell short of the estimated attendance of 175 million visitors in 2000. The destination parks owned by Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Anheuser-Busch Cos. in Florida and California suffered more than regional parks after the terrorist attacks.
"I don't think that -- at least in the near future -- we'll get back to those numbers," said Steve Baker, an Orlando, Fla.-based theme park consultant. "It will grow annually, but it will take a while before we see those again."
Attendance at the top 50 parks around the world increased 2.2% to 252.4 million visitors in 2004, according to Amusement Business. Attendance at the 10 most popular parks in Asia rose 1.1% to 68.8 million visitors, and attendance at the top 10 European parks rose 2.8% to 41.2 million visitors. The top 10 parks in Latin America had 15.3 million visitors, down slightly.
The most-attended park in the world in 2004 was the Magic Kingdom at Orlando's Walt Disney World, with 15.1 million visitors, up 8% from the previous year. The Florida park was followed by Disneyland in Anaheim with 13.3 million visitors, up 5%, and Tokyo Disneyland with 13.2 million visitors.
Disney parks in the United States, France and Japan accounted for eight of the top 10 slots on the best-attended list worldwide. Disney's domestic parks, including its four Florida parks, filled the top five North American spots.
The recent hurricanes in Florida, which shut down the state's theme parks for several days, seemed to have little effect on attendance. All the major Florida parks, with the exception of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, had attendance gains.
NBC Universal's Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks in Orlando even had attendance increases of 14% and 13%, respectively, fueled in part by the new Revenge of the Mummy ride at Universal Studios.
Twelve of Six Flags Inc.'s 13 parks on the top 50 list had attendance that was flat or declined by as much as 13% from last year. The stagnant figures were caused by weather problems and the fact that Six Flags didn't roll out many new rides this year, said James Zoltak, editor of Amusement Business.
"In this business, you have to regularly roll out new attractions," Zoltak said.
Oklahoma City-based Six Flags doesn't comment on attendance figures at individual parks, said Debbie Nauser, the company's vice president of public relations.
Other California theme parks in the top 25 were: 8th place, Disney's California Adventure with 5.6 million visitors, up 6%; 10th place, Universal Studios Hollywood, 5 million visitors, up 8%; 13th place, SeaWorld San Diego, 4 million visitors, unchanged; 14th place, Knott's Berry Farm, 3.5 million visitors, up 3%; and 21st place, Six Flags Magic Mountain, 2.7 million visitors, down 2%.