Saturday 13 June 2015

TEA/AECOM 2014 Attendance Data - Statistical Analysis

Last week saw the release of the the annual TEA/AECOM Attendance Data for 2014. I thought it might be a bit of fun to pull apart some of the data and see if we can see any particular trends from the data from the last few years of these reports. I'm a professional nerd, so this kind of thing is right up my alley. As a quick summary, we have growth in general and good news for both of the major chains Disney and Universal. We also have a couple of anomalies, including an outstanding park debut and a park disappearance. There is also a bit of bad continuing bad news for Disneyland Paris and the two U.S. SeaWorld parks. Let's get into it!

Park Attendance

Since the start of the TEA/AECOM Theme Park Attendance data reporting, Disney has dominated the rankings. Particularly, the Magic Kingdom park which has easily topped the park rankings each year. This year is no different. The Magic Kingdom park is surging towards having 20 Million guests annually, and the only real competition at this stage is coming from Disneyland and the two Tokyo Disney parks. Let's break this down by looking at a couple of graphs, the first graph shows the Attendance for all the Disney Parks globally, plus their nearest rival Universal Studios Japan.

This graph shows that all the Disney parks are doing well in terms of total attendance. Certainly Magic Kingdom isn't going to be unseated, but it's lead over the next 3 Disney parks is not enormous. You should also notice that the two Tokyo parks had a flat year this year, but with the huge growth the previous year, they remain in a very strong position. The biggest growth on this graph though is the Universal Studios Japan line, which of course saw the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2014. You can see with this additional growth, that the top Universal park is about average for a Disney park at the moment. Which is a great showing for Universal, if you know your history of theme parks.

We should note a couple of things in this graph. Most of the Disney parks in this graph are flat to slightly improved, except for two Disney parks that seem to be going downhill quickly. We'll see more on this when we view the growth rates, but those two parks are Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios in Paris.

Now let's look at the opposite graph, which is all of the Universal Parks, along with Disney's top performer Magic Kingdom:

For me this graphs shows two things distinctly. Firstly that Magic Kingdom as a park compared to any non-Disney park is an unfair comparison at the moment. If any parks are going to catch MK, it's most likely to be Universal Studios Japan or one of the Universal Orlando parks, but even that is decades away (barring something catastrophic). Secondly and most importantly for Universal all these parks are moving in the right direction. Even Islands of Adventure being flat this year is a good result, given what opened next door at USF. While Singapore has been slow to grow, it is still a young park find it's feet in a very different tourism landscape. Look out for Universal Studios Hollywood, particularly in 2016, as I don't know how it grew as much as it did in 2014 with half of their park shutting down for construction.

Let's have a look at the rest of the top parks for 2014, compared with the top Disney and Universal parks:

Firstly, we should note, that it is Disney then daylight, then Universal then more daylight, then everyone else. Ignoring that, there a couple of interesting changes this year. Firstly, the debut of Chime-long Ocean Kingdom into the Top 25 parks in it's first year in operation is truly stunning. This park in Hengqin, China (near Macau) opened with a staggering attendance of 5.5 million guests. To put this into perspective this dwarfs even the second year figures for both Hong Kong Disneyland and Universal Studios Singapore. It will be interesting to track where this park goes in the future.

Also to be applauded is Songcheng Park, that has put on a massive spurt of attendance in the last twelve months. You can see that most of the European parks were flat over the last 12 months. It is a little hard to tell on this graph, but it was yet another bad year for SeaWorld California and SeaWorld Florida.

One mystery in this years results, is the total disappearance of Yokohama Hakkeikima Sea Paradise in Japan, which has rated well in previous years polls, but is completely absent from the 2014 report (not even making the top Asian parks list). If anyone knows what happened to this park this year, please let me know.

Park Growth

I think it is worth viewing the graphs for growth rates for the individual parks as well, as this does start to show a few patterns of it's own that aren't as clear in the Attendance graphs. Firstly, let's look at Disney Parks Compared to the top two Universal growers Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Orlando:

A couple of clear trends stand out here. Firstly, no Disney park came close to growing at the rate of the Universal Parks last year. USJ and USO clearly beat the pants off Disney in this respect. The more alarming trend to me was that although a lot of Disney parks had strong growth in 2013, all of those had weakend growth in 2014. That doesn't mean they are about to crash into negative territory and shrink next year, but it would be a concern to have a brand wide trend to that effect.

There are two parks that are in a very concerning position, who for the second year running shrunk significantly. That is Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios in Paris. You might have trouble seeing the Disneyland Paris line on this graph, and that is because it is smack band on the line of Walt Disney Studios. Now that may be a reporting issue that they are only getting resort wide attendance patterns, however, it is concerning that the shrink is continuing for the Disneyland Paris resort. This isn't a statistical cheat (like in 2010 when WDS had massive growth, of about the same amount that Disneyland Paris lost), this is really a resort that is having some troubles. And this isn't a solely geographic issue, as there was growth in two of the other European major parks this year (Europa Park and Tivoli Gardens). Disney must be watching this very carefully.

Let's look at how Universal has performed, against Magic Kingdom and Disneyland:

There is some great news here for Universal, not all of which is expected. There was huge growth in two parks, Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Orlando. This is not surprising as both have opened Wizarding World in the past two years. It is interesting though to compare these growth changes to the growth of Island's of Adventure in 2010 and 2011. It's hard to fault USJ for this, as it was coming base, so it would be tough to get a 29% growth for two years in a row. It's still a really good result. The surprise for me, is Universal Studios Hollywood. This park seems to grow ever 2 years, but for the life of me I can't understand why it has grown in 2014. It concerns me with the openings happening in 2015 (Simpsons) and 2016 (WWoHP) that they are already having 10% growth. Even Islands had a little bit of a dip before they opened WWoHP. I guess this is just a different market, and people were still keen to see an almost empty park in 2014. I would not have predicted that.

As mentioned earlier Islands of Adventure was flat last year, but that is not necessarily a bad result considering it's neighbors' opening of Diagon Alley (although it's hard to know what effect the Hogwarts Express running Park to Park has had on these figures). I think Universal would like to see a little more movement in Singapore, but to be honest they haven't been investing as heavily there either. Singapore is going to be a slow burn, so look for it in about 5 years time.

Let's look at all the other parks, compared to the best that Disney and Universal had to offer:

When looking at this graph, it is a bit of mixed bag. There is still an overall trend for growth, particularly in Asia, but it's very patchy. Most impressive is clearly the Songcheng Park, who has embarrassed everyone with their percentage growth over the last 12 months including Universal Studios Orlando. Good solid growth from Tivoli Gardens and De Efteling at around 6 percent as well.

What happened to Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise? They are just gone, no value this year.

The big losers are Nagashima Spaland, and the two U.S. Sea World parks. I wouldn't be so concerned with Nagashima Spaland as this park seems to have a pattern of small shrinks followed by large growths. However we are seeing not just a decline in the attendance at SeaWorld Florida and SeaWorld California, but a steeply accelerating decline. It would be a huge concern that these parks are declining in growth markets, which can simply be attributed to the Blackfish documentary. While it's unclear whether the Blackfish effect is only temporary, but another year of sustained shrinkage for either of the SeaWorld parks would be very bad news. SeaWorld Florida is facing an uphill battle, since competition for the non-Disney segment of a Florida vacation has hotted up with the expansions at Universal Orlando, and the opening of Legoland Florida near by. I'll give it another year before I make a terminal prediction, but I'll say that I suspect SeaWorld Florida is being checked out by doctor's as we speak.


As Disney and Universal have dominated the theme park world in the last 30 years, they have created a new beast called a theme park resort, which of itself should be analyzed. The king of theme park resorts is undoubtedly Walt Disney World, and given it's head start and available land, no one will likely ever be able to challenge that. However, in the last 20 years, Disney and Universal have also grown there own 2 park resorts throughout the "Disney Decade" and the Universal Orlando Expansion. So let's take a look at how these reports compare to each other statistically, firstly by viewing total park attendance grouped by Resort:

So Walt Disney World is beating everyone by a mile! They now have over 50 million park guest per year, and they are growing. But this isn't really a fair comparison as they have 4 parks, and the other resorts only have 2. Let's have a look at how this graph changes when we even the playing field:

When we look at the Per Park attendance of the 5 major theme park Resorts, we start to see that this isn't as clear as it first seemed. On an Attendance Per Park basis, Tokyo Disneyland Resort is clearly the most popular theme park resort in the world. Yet again, it seems hard to turn this trend around. Tokyo Disney is very much a juggernaut, that looks like it will only be stopped when people are no longer able to move inside the parks. Tokyo DisneySea has long been the best "second" park of a Disney Resort (it's hard to beat a Magic Kingdom at it's own game). When you combine this with the cult hit of Tokyo Disneyland itself, it's a tough combination to beat.

It is also interesting that Disneyland Resort and WDW are now almost equal on a per park basis. This is due to the strong growth at Disney California Adventure in the last 3 years and the solid numbers for Walt's original park. WDW has capacity for more growth as all 3 non-MK parks are going to be enhanced in the next 5 years, so I would expect it WDW to pull away again from Disneyland Resort, but not for a few years.

The pattern is particularly clear in the other two resorts. Universal Orlando is booming, and Disneyland Paris Resort is busting. It's still an uphill battle for Universal Orlando, but it's as strong (and rich) as it has ever been, and it's buying really good I.P. to use in the next 10 years. To get a better look at the pattern of these two resorts, let's have a look at the Attendance growth of all of these resorts:

This graph shows that even with it's substantial lead, Tokyo Disneyland Resort had a quiet year this year. However, with the huge growth the year before, we still can't say it's a bad year. Growth is still strong for Disneyland Resort and WDW, even if it is a bit slower than the previous years. Once again, the story is clear for Universal Orlando, eveything is going great and they just need to find ways to keep the balls rolling. Disneyland Paris Resort on the other hand, while it didn't shrink as fast as the previous year, it's still shrinking alarmingly.


Overall the world of Theme Parks grew in 2014, and that is good news for all of us. The winners this year are clearly Universal Studios Japan, Universal Orlando Resort, Songcheng Park and Chime-long Ocean Kingdom, with outstanding growth in attendance. The losers this year are clearly the two U.S. SeaWorld parks, and Disneyland Paris Resort. In terms of overall attendance Walt Disney World resort and it's flagship park Magic Kingdom have a practically insurmountable lead, but special mentions should go to the parks of the Tokyo Disneyland Resort that are again strong this year. Interesting to watch in 2015 will be Universal Orlando, who will have had a full year of their WWoHP, and Universal Studios Hollywood who are opening Springfield U.S.A. amidst the shadow of their own WWoHP in 2016. We also wait to see if anything can save SeaWorld Florida in the next 12 months.


  1. Good to see it's mostly up and up for the theme parks!! I wonder if blackfish had a play in dampening the SeaWorld numbers, I know the doco is a few years old now but it definitely had an affect on myself. I even did a mental comparison in my head whilst watching Jurassic Park the other day though the similarities may of been purely coincidental!

  2. Oh Blackfish certainly is dampening SeaWorld, there is no question. While the Orlando park might be struggling because of competition changes, the same isn't true at all for San Diego, and they are both declining at a similar rate.

  3. Oh Blackfish certainly is dampening SeaWorld, there is no question. While the Orlando park might be struggling because of competition changes, the same isn't true at all for San Diego, and they are both declining at a similar rate.

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