Friday, September 22, 2023

Busch Gardens doubling down on new rides as county approves 315-foot-tall attraction

Attractions at the European-themed park range from world-class coasters to scenic river cruises. (Courtesy Busch Gardens Williamsburg)
Attractions at the European-themed park range from world-class coasters to scenic river cruises. (Courtesy Busch Gardens Williamsburg)

James City County’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a height limit waiver and allow Busch Gardens to construct a new 315-foot-tall attraction. Other than its name, “Madrid,” few details about the attraction have been publicly released.

“This [new attraction] they’re putting in place could potentially have people coming from all over the world,” said County Administrator Bryan Hill. “I’m a happy guy. Busch Gardens continues to invest and people continue to come. That’s what tourism development is all about.”

The recipe of drawing in crowds by investing in new rides is one Busch Gardens — and its parent company SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.– are wagering on.

Busch Garden’s most recent request to James City County for a height waiver permit for the 315 foot tall attraction comes as the company looks to improve its existing business to bring visitors back to the park.

In a recent corporate earnings call, Busch Gardens’ parent company said it’s doubling down on building more attractions for less money.

“We have to grow attendance and grow revenue,” Joel Manby, CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. said in the call. “But minimizing a loss is just as important in cash flow as maximizing a gain.”

Documents given to investors on Tuesday show SeaWorld is looking to spend more than $100 million across all of its parks on new attractions, events and experiences.

Busch Gardens and Water Country USA will both be “going beyond standard theme and water parks with unique, never before seen experiences,” according to the documents.

“In 2016, we began implementing our plan to stabilize our business and drive sustainable growth,” Manby said. “As a reminder, our strategic plan encompasses five key points: one, reposition the SeaWorld brand from animal entertainment to Experiences that Matter.”

The pivot away from “animal entertainment” is telling. The company faced international criticism after after the 2013 documentary “Blackfish” detailed perceived stresses faced by orca whales at SeaWorld. After the release of “Blackfish,” the company saw fewer visitors and fewer revenues to many of its parks.

SeaWorld’s stock price has halved since its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, April 19, 2013.

On Tuesday, the stock price fell briefly to its lowest level ever at $11.10 per share, according to Zacks, an online investment researcher. According to a report from The Street, the corporation could face a credit downgrade.

SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. spokeswoman Aimee Jeansonne Becka said the corporation would “rely on the comments made on the investor call.” Busch Gardens spokesman Ron Vample was unavailable to comment by time of publication.

In the wake of significant losses, the company has focused on investing in attractions to boost its bottom line and make shareholders happy, according to a Bloomberg report.

Busch Gardens’ new wooden roller coaster InvadR is just one of SeaWorld’s seven major investments across four of its parks, according to documents given to investors. The coaster opened April 7.

The park also has two other attractions in the works, including the 315-foot-tall “Madrid” attraction and a virtual reality ride set to come out in 2018.

“We’re very proud of the good work we do here in James City County,” Busch Gardens Park President David Cromwell said at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “We’re excited about the future and our demonstration of continued investment in our park.”

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