SeaWorld Entertainment is phasing out is signature Shamu show in San Diego and moving to a new "orca experience," management announced Monday during the company's investor day meeting.
The Orlando, Florida-based company said 2016 will be the last year of its theatrical killer whale experience called One Ocean. This follows a criticism from animal rights activists and others, as well as the threat of legislation to ban the public orca shows.
"Main point is we are listening to our guests," said SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby. "We're evolving as a company. We're always changing. And so in 2017, we will launch an all-new Orca experience."
SeaWorld also hinted it might abandon its controversial Blue World Project in San Diego that proposed expanding the killer whale space. But the company said it still plans to fight with the California Coastal Commission over the agency's condition that would ban orca breeding at the park.
"When Coastal decision came we felt we had to fight it on precedent," Manby said. "Having said that, even if we get a positive vote there it doesn't necessarily mean we're moving forward with Blue World. There are a lot of factors, and I think we have to see how it all plays out."
During the investor day — SeaWorld's first as a public company — management also said it was looking to the resort business model to grow park attendance and increase overall sales. The company said it had "room to grow" properties in California, Florida and Texas.
As part of the new strategy, the company also announced a partnership with California-based Evans Hotel Group to get a first look at developing hotels in San Diego. "We're not announcing today a timeframe that it's going to be built. It's our first move to look strong at this business."
SeaWorld also said it plans to develop a new sea rescue ride — Rescue the Ride.
"Our new sea rescue ride is where families will be put into action as trainees just like our real-life rescue teams," said Anthony Esparza, SeaWorld's Chief Creative Officer. "After jumping and twisting and turning near the water's edge, guests will learn what animal they've saved."
The new Rescue the Ride attraction will be built in San Diego or the company's park in San Antonio, Texas – and it will open in either 2017 or 2018. The company said it was too early to make an announcement with more details on the ride.
"We're not limited to one animal, to any one show, to any one attraction," said Manby. "We have great flexibility and we have a lot of options moving forward of how we entertain our guests."
The CEO also said SeaWorld would be more outspoken to improve the brand's reputation.
"We've been a very humble, modest company. We have to change that and be more aggressive in what we communicate."