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Thursday, Dec 7, 2023

Shamu and the Zoo Vs. Mickey Mouse

If dreams really do come true for San Diego’s theme parks and attractions, they’ll become the after-party destination for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration and see a spike in gate counts this summer.

Judging from some recent numbers released by the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, they need a boost like that.

Theme park officials typically keep attendance figures and business strategies close to their vest. However, figures on aggregate attendance supplied by ConVis show that the total gate for attractions in April was 983,397, down 15.7 percent from the same year-ago month.

Meanwhile, local amusement park officials expect to cash in on Disneyland’s advertising campaign commemorating its 1955 opening.

Disney officials haven’t said what they plan to spend. But Reint Reinders, chairman and chief executive officer of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, said industry sources have placed the figure at $150 million to tout the anniversary bash throughout the United States and abroad.

“They’re spending more money than they ever have in the past for an event, so all this promotion outside the region, throughout the nation and the world, will benefit all of Southern California’s tourism,” Reinders said. “This is the mouse that roars. Disney is probably as powerful a brand as Mercedes.”

Ed Litrenta, vice president of marketing for SeaWorld San Diego, said he thinks the park, as well its competing venues throughout Southern California, will feel the trickle-down effect of Disneyland’s advertising.

“Disney, with all its media now, and in the past, has benefited Southern California theme parks,” Litrenta said. “Even without Disney, I think we’re going to have a strong year, however, I think they’ll help us to improve (attendance) with the longer-haul visitor.”

He declined to be specific about SeaWorld San Diego’s attendance last year, saying only that it was flat compared to 2003. Yet it would have been up if the park included the free admissions it gave to military personnel in 2004.

Newer, Bigger, Better

The name of the game in the theme park business is to add new exhibits and rides to give people more reasons to return. And Litrenta said he thinks SeaWorld San Diego’s Journey to Atlantis splashdown ride, which was introduced last summer, has enough legs to be a big draw this summer.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Zoo has opened a new exhibit, the Monkey Trails, which the San Diego Zoological Society is touting in its advertising and on its Web site. Zoo officials, however, don’t cite attendance figures.

Legoland California in Carlsbad added a new robotic roller-coaster ride, Knights Tournament, this spring, and is scheduled to open a miniature golf course in early July. The park’s managers project a higher gate count this summer, but Disneyland’s 50th will help lure business to the region.

“More people visiting the area will result in higher attendance for us,” said Legoland spokeswoman Kim Clark.

More Pie To Go Around

Since Southern California will have “a bigger family tourism pie,” all of the region’s amusement parks should benefit, said Tom DiZinno, who heads DiZinno Thompson, which was the advertising agency of record for ConVis, until DiZinno Thompson merged with Encinitas-based NYCA this spring.

Yet the worst that could happen, DiZinno said, is San Diego’s attractions could break even with summertime attendance.

The big question, said Carl Winston, director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at San Diego State University, is how much of a negative impact there will be on San Diego’s attractions if Disneyland takes a larger share of the local tourism market.

“There will be some negatives and some positives, but my personal sense is that San Diego’s parks will come out ahead in terms of attendance,” he added.

According to Disney spokesman John McClintock, sales of the Southern California CityPass, which packages tickets to a variety of Southern California attractions including Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld San Diego, continue to climb annually.

Tourism 101

“It’s Tourism 101,” McClintock said. “The farther travelers come to get to Southern California, the more they want from a Southern California destination experience.

“So, if you’re a domestic tourist, you’ll probably choose a smaller-scale version of that to include two major cities. And if you’re a Southern California resident who wants to take a short vacation, then you’ll simply take one city over the other.”

Disney executives won’t cite annual attendance figures. But Reinders estimated that Disneyland and its sister park, California Adventure, together draw a gate of 20 million annually. And that’s during a regular year.

Disney Travel Co., the firm’s travel arm in Anaheim, reportedly brings more than 1 million people to Southern California each year.

For the year to date, the gate count for San Diego’s attractions stood at 9.37 million, down 3.6 percent from the like period in 2004. Tourism officials blame the decline on heavy rains that pelted the county throughout the winter and spring. Yet annual attendance at the county’s parks was flat in 2004 at 11.8 million, compared to the year before.


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