Disney’s Upgraded California Park Draws 23% More Visitors

Walt Disney Co.’s California Adventure, bolstered by a $1.1 billion expansion, led the world’s largest theme parks with a 23 percent surge in visitors to 7.78 million last year.

Attendance at the top 25 parks worldwide increased 5.2 percent to 205.9 million visitors in 2012, according to a report today by the Themed Entertainment Association and the consulting firm Aecom.

“The market in North America was, this year as last year, driven by major reinvestment at the major operators’ parks,” according to the report.

Disney, the world’s largest theme park operator, tripled its investment in its resorts division between 2008 and 2012, spending $9.2 billion on two new cruise ships and improvements to its properties. The company’s net income jumped 32 percent to $1.51 billion in the second quarter, in part due to higher attendance and a surge in profits at its parks business.

Disney’s California Adventure park in Anaheim opened its Cars Land attraction in June 2012, drawing tourists to a new area based on the Pixar “Cars” films. Neighboring Disneyland was the only park among the world’s largest to register fewer visitors last year, with attendance shrinking 1.1 percent to 16 million, according to the report.

Attendance ‘Dream’

Jay Rasulo, Disney’s chief financial officer, said at an investment conference last week that the money spent on California Adventure was designed to correct an imbalance in attendance between the two California resorts.

“We had a very uneven distribution where most people spent most of their time at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure was empty,” Rasulo said. “Now, half of the folks go to one, half of the folks go to the other. It’s almost a dream come true.”

Rasulo said at the conference the theme parks division faces a tough year-over-year comparison in the current fiscal third quarter. Results will reflect one less week of Easter holiday traffic, compared with the same period last year, and Disney won’t get the same earnings boost from the new cruise ship Fantasy as the ship has now been operating for more than a year, he said.

Disney’s stock rose less than 1 percent to $64.35 at the close in New York. Shares of the Burbank, California-based company have risen 29 percent this year through today, compared with 14 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

The company raised admission prices at its parks this week, increasing the cost of a Disneyland or California Adventure single-day, adult ticket by 5.7 percent to $92.

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