Theme Park Growth Shifts to Asia in Business the U.S. Pioneered

Asia’s largest theme parks grew at more than twice the rate of their U.S. counterparts and now rival them on a list of the most-attended in the world, according to a report released Wednesday.

The region has 10 properties among the 25 most-attended theme parks globally, one more than last year and equal in number to the U.S., industry consultant Aecom said in a report for the Themed Entertainment Association, a Burbank, California-based trade group.

The importance of Asia to the industry will increase with the opening of Walt Disney Co.’s $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort next year. Attendance at Asia’s top 20 parks rose 4.9 percent to 122.5 million last year, compared with 2.2 percent and 138.1 million for the 20 largest in the U.S.

“We’ve forecast that Asian parks overtake American parks in 2020,” Chris Yoshii, vice president for economics at Aecom, said in a statement. “Asia’s large parks keep getting larger.”

U.S. park operators and their licensees continue to make investments in Asia. Universal Studios Japan increased attendance 17 percent last year with its new Wizarding World of Harry Potter, based on the attraction opened by Comcast Corp.’s Universal theme park unit in Orlando, Florida.

Growth in the U.S. was dominated by the two biggest operators -- Disney, which pioneered the industry 60 years ago with Disneyland in California, and Universal Studios. The Universal Studios park in Orlando posted the largest attendance jump in the U.S., with a 17 percent increase. It opened the Harry Potter-themed Diagon Alley last year.

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.’s Orlando and San Diego parks suffered the steepest declines at 8 percent and 12 percent respectively. SeaWorld’s attendance has been impacted by protests over its use of killer whales in shows. In March the company introduced a marketing campaign designed to counteract the negative publicity.

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