Dunlap succeeds Marilyn Hannes, who was promoted to senior vice president of strategic relationships for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment after 23 years with the company, five of those leading the two parks.
At the beginning of May, SeaWorld reported its financial results for the first quarter of 2021. Total revenue was $171.9 million, an increase of $18.4 million (or 12%) from the first quarter of 2020.
“Currently, my principal focus is to make sure our park has reopened from being closed for the period of time it was closed,” said Dunlap. “We are hiring, opening rides and we are looking toward the future with future events. We are planning a new Halloween promotion, Howl-O-Scream, and also getting ready for Christmas. Long-term, we are looking at all the ways to continue to elevate guest experiences. That includes a detailed look from the guests’ point of view, like rides, animals, food and beverage, etc. − all aspects.”
On the immediate horizon, Dunlap plans to focus on the Electric Ocean, an old favorite that will get a new spin, he said. The summerlong event invites guests to stay late and enjoy lights and music as well as their favorite SeaWorld attractions under the stars.
Electric Ocean will go live June 11, said Dunlap, and end August 8.
SeaWorld’s annual Spooktacular Halloween event is planned for October, he added, and Howl-O-Scream, the new, previously-mentioned activation, will kick off later this year followed by the traditional holiday program.
“Again, the Christmas celebration is something we’ve done in previous years but we are looking at new ways to bring entertainment back while being conscientious of the COVID-19 restrictions,” said Dunlap. “We anticipate these events will be exciting and offer new life to the park.”
Dunlap has vast amounts of experience in the theme park industry and the leadership expertise to help move SeaWorld & Aquatica San Diego forward as park president, according the company.
Prior to his current role, he served as president and CEO of Iconic Attractions Group, an attraction management and advisory company he founded. There, he helped clients develop business strategies to transform the performance of their parks. He oversaw projects such as the redevelopment and opening of the Dubai Safari Park and the transformation of the Jungle Island theme park in Miami.
Before he founded Iconic Attractions Group, Dunlap worked as director of the San Diego Zoo. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of Virginia as well as an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“It was during my time as director of the San Diego Zoo that I became really involved in wildlife conservation − that’s when I decided I’d spend the rest of my life focused on institutions that care about wildlife education and conservation,” said Dunlap, adding that SeaWorld rescued 819 animals in 2020, 463 of which took place during COVID closures.
Marc Swanson, who was named permanent CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. just two weeks ago, is looking forward to continuing to implement strategic recovery efforts.
“We’ve been executing on a plan that we worked on with the board to develop over the last several years and that led to 2019 being a record year for us,” said Swanson, who works out of the Orlando headquarters. “Now, my vision is to keep executing on that strategy.”
SeaWorld is already testing a mobile app that the company hopes will make the guest experience more seamless and efficient, he said. It is also working on a customer relationship management system that will allow it to better communicate with guests and offer a more personalized experience catered to their respective likes and needs.
Excited and Thrilled
Dunlap is excited about joining the SeaWorld team.
“I am thrilled to be here −I am excited to get to redevelopment and to launch some new shows, festivals and events and animal presentations throughout the park,” he said. “All three of my children were born in San Diego and the first roller coaster we rode as a family was the Manta in SeaWorld. So, I have a special place in my heart for this city, for that attraction and now this park.”