Today I'm reporting from Disney's California Adventure, where the park is unveiling "World of Color," a water and light show, part of a billion dollar renovation of the park. Some 1,600 people are expected to turn out tonight for the unveiling of the Disney-themed show, which is said to put the Bellagio's fountains in Las Vegas to shame.
This summer Disney is phasing out discounts and counting on new attractions like this one to drive attenance. So far it's working: last week Bob Iger said Disneyland and Disneyworld hotel bookings continue to improve.
Disney isn't the only one investing in new attractions- theme parks around the country are investing millions in new attractions. Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando is introducing a new Harry Potter attraction.
Six Flags, which emerged from bankruptcy in May is adding more roller coasters. And Sea World, which is owned by Blackstone Group, is featuring new high tech shows.
What's the potential return? The 400 amusement parks in the U.S. generate some $12 billion in annual revenue from more than 300 million annual visitors. Last year North American parks saw a one percent decline in attendance, but discounting prevented attendance from falling off further.
This summer the mood is more upbeat: parks are bringing back normal prices and the industry is expecting an uptick in attendance this season. The head of the International Association of Amusement Parks, David Mandt tells me that an increase in corporate business and advance bookings is a positive sign.
Cedar Fair , which operates a dozen amusement and water parks around the country, including Knott's Berry Farm and King's Dominion, is on track for an uptick in sales this summer, after suffering an 8 percent decline in sales and an 11 percent decline in EBITDA this year.
But at the end of the day, the weather could have the biggest impact on parks summer performance. Last year was unusually wet and cold, particularly in the North East—that smaller local parks more than vacation spots like Disneyworld. But parks around the country are all hoping for a sunny summer.
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