Main Street USA, Magic Kingdom ©PixieDustDaily

Main Street USA, Magic Kingdom ©PixieDustDaily

Disney Parks Dominated the Theme Park Industry in 2014

Once again, Disney World’s Magic Kingdom took top honors as the most visited theme park in the world. According to the Themed Entertainment Association’s annual report, Magic Kingdom’s attendance increased 4% over 2013 numbers, which were already impressive. Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom all saw 2% increases year over year. Tokyo Disneyland filled in the number two spot and Disneyland, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, came in at third. Aside from a giant pat on the back for those managing the Mouse’s operations, what does this mean for consumers, Disney’s competition, and the theme park industry as a whole?

The Theme Park Industry is Healthy

The top 25 theme parks saw an average increase of 4-5% while the top 20 water parks enjoyed a nearly 3% increase. Globally we’ve seen the economy become more stable in the past two years, which leads to more expenditures on tourism. Nowhere is this more evident than Orlando, Florida. Home to several major theme parks, Orlando draws in more tourists than any other US city with over 97 million visitors last year. That’s more than double the numbers Las Vegas draws in annually. Continual increases show invites continual investment and we are seeing a lot of growth in this area.

Demand Drives Expansion in Orlando

The continual increases in visitors to Disney World has also spurred on major investments by other local theme parks and new additions to the area. Universal Studios Florida, Disney’s biggest competition for guests, has been on a building spree the past few years adding both theme park rides, hotels, and recently announced the Volcano Bay water park. LegoLand has its own new hotel in the works, SeaWorld has a new shark themed land and coaster on the way, and we’ve also seen smaller project like the Orlando Eye pop up. While all of this expansion may concern Disney execs for fear of losing some marketshare, the fact is Disney World is already too top heavy with tourists and the steady stream of visitors to the Orlando area isn’t slowing down.

The real benefit here is for the guests. Competition and increased profits are fueling new innovations and adding to the pool of things to do. Disney World itself requires multiple vacations to even scratch the surface of all the parks, shopping, dining, and activities. Now Universal is coming into its own as a true destination and not as a day away from Disney. Aside from investment in expansion, the local competition is also driving creativity. Expect to see more and more developments in the industry for guests. New hotel themes, innovative rides and attractions, and unique activities.

Demand Hits the Pocket Books

For many guests, the downside of high demand is in the price increases. Disney World has steadily increased ticket prices annually and Universal quietly boosts their own right after Disney grabs the media attention. Despite numerous articles and declarations on social media of the parks being unaffordable, attendance numbers aren’t reflecting that claim. Until the high levels of visitors plateaus, or Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld build up enough to gobble up all the demand, price tweaks are here to stay.

In total, Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld bring in over 70 million visitors each year. On top of this, Disney World alone employs more than 70,000 local workers. While some media may like to dwell on the fact that a single day ticket at Magic Kingdom broke the $100 ‘barrier’ this year, a good part of those profits, and the profits of other local parks, are being plowed back into the infrastructure to the benefit of shareholders and guests alike. Personally, I am looking forward to the amazing things we are seeing now, such as Disney Springs and Volcano Bay, as well as future projects like Hollywood Studios imminent Star Wars expansion.


NOTE: For a complete breakdown of theme park numbers, see the 2014 annual Themed Entertainment Association report.