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Global attraction attendance report shows industry resilience in 2020 and the beginnings of recovery

Global attraction attendance report shows industry resilience in 2020 and the beginnings of recovery
September 24, 2021

2020 was a difficult year for theme parks, water parks and museums, but the latest edition of TEA and AECOM's definitive global attraction attendance report shows that operators and markets have shown remarkable resiliency and are already on the path to recovery in 2021.

Released overnight, the 2020 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index charts how 2020 was a difficult year for theme parks, waterparks and museums, which are by their nature dedicated to bringing people together for shared experiences.

Around the world, the pandemic saw most theme parks, waterparks and museums were closed for significant periods in 2020, with a resultant steep attendance decline.

At the same time, operators and markets have shown remarkable resiliency and are already on the path to recovery in 2021, considered a ‘bounce-back year’ in what is forecast to be a three-year recovery cycle.

Commenting on the findings of the annual, calendar-year study, produced by collaboration of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and the Economics practice at AECOM, TEA International Board President Chuck Fawcett of Animax Designs, explained "the TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index truly sets the bar for how our global association serves the global leisure industry.

“Theme parks, waterparks and museums are landmarks of cultural tourism and engines of economic development, and the TEA/AECOM Theme Index provides critical benchmarking and context for key decision makers. TEA values its continuing partnership with AECOM and the ability to provide this valuable resource to our business community.”

The 2020 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index studies the sector by region (The Americas, Asia-Pacific; Europe, The Middle East & Africa [EMEA]), the global market as a whole and the top operators. The report charts and discusses the effects of the pandemic on the industry in 2020 and the subsequent signs of recovery and heightened innovation already begun.

John Robinett, Senior Vice President - Economics, AECOM advises “the 2020 attendance numbers are largely due to regulatory restrictions limiting parks’ operating days and capacities and not park popularity and management.

“We are already seeing a surge of pent-up demand. The speed with which guests returned to parks and museums once they reopened attests to the vital role these leisure outlets play in people’s lives.

“We can’t expect recovery to equal an instant return to 2019 numbers: those represented an economic peak, the best in five decades. A more realistic expectation would be to achieve a level comparable to an average of several years pre-COVID. Following the steep drop of 2020, we can expect that 2021 will manifest as a bounce-back year and that 2022 will usher in real recovery. In 2023, guest expectations will rise, and operators should plan and budget for reinvestment accordingly.”

The Americas - Theme Parks and Waterparks
In the USA, most theme parks and waterparks were open on 1st January 2020, but shut down mid-March. As a result, the top 20 North American theme parks saw a total drop in attendance of -72%.

Marina Hoffman, Senior Analyst / Hospitality Consultant, Economics, AECOM, noted “the pain rippled through the industry as well as the fan base. But as soon as parks could reopen, guests returned in large numbers, and operators adapted.

“Though economically disrupted by the pandemic and now facing staffing and operations challenges, the industry looks ahead. Major theme park operators and big chains - including Disney, Universal, Six Flags, Cedar Fair and Herschend - have continued with construction projects, new attraction openings and plans for the future. Even in the hard-hit water parks sector there is encouraging new development.”

Asia-Pacific - Theme Parks and Waterparks
In the Asia-Pacific region, the top 20 theme parks saw attendance numbers drop a total of -58% in 2020. Looking only at China, the numbers tended to be more favourable.

Being hit very early in the pandemic, China was the first to implement restrictions and closures in 2020.

Nonetheless, China added some 20 parks during the pandemic with recent openings including Universal Beijing Resort, Ocean Park Hong Kong’s new Water World, new parks in the OCT and Fantawild chains and an expansion of Chimelong Paradise.

Chris Yoshii, Vice President - Economics, Asia-Pacific, AECOM commented “China continues to move toward a leading global position in the theme parks and attractions industry.

“The establishment of Universal Beijing Resort and continuing success of Shanghai Disney Resort represent an upward trajectory and reinforces the notion of quality for parks in China and Asia - raising the bar in the use of technology and media and spurring others to follow suit.”

Beth Chang, Executive Director - Economics, Asia-Pacific, AECOM added “China’s theme parks and water parks have had access to a much smaller pool of tourists than previously, but have the country’s sizeable, local population to draw upon. Those parks already oriented to local markets were able to sustain higher attendance numbers.”

EMEA - Theme Parks and Waterparks
In the EMEA region total attendance decline in 2020 was -66% for the top 20 theme parks and -61% for the top 10 waterparks. Parks catering mostly to regional markets saw lesser attendance drops than those relying more on tourism. Overall, the sector did relatively well in pandemic-hit 2020 and is poised to recover more quickly than some other markets, simply because European parks skew regional.

Attendance at the world’s top 20 museums in 2020 showed a total decrease of -78%, across all regions from the prior year. Museums were one of the visitor attraction categories most negatively affected by COVID-19. They were liable to be closed for long periods, subject to rigorous capacity limits and control measures due to being primarily indoor facilities. Those with attendance models heavily reliant on international tourism suffered most.

Blockbuster touring exhibits, new museums, expansions and exhibitions were delayed, but began to resurge in 2021. The pandemic prompted museums to regroup and deliver content online, to enthusiastic reception by communities and educators.

Linda Cheu, Vice President - Economics, Americas, AECOM concluded “our museum community deserves a commendation for its resilience and dedication during the pandemic. Facing considerable challenges, museums everywhere showed themselves to be innovative in pivoting to online content and virtual experiences to continue serving their missions - and stay connected to the communities that needed them more than ever. While full recovery is some ways off, post reopening numbers have been encouraging, reflecting substantial, pent-up demand for museum experiences.”

Since 2006, TEA and AECOM have collaborated to produce and publish the annual TEA/AECOM Theme Index and make the report available free as a resource and reference for business and education. It was expanded to include the Museum Index in 2012. The TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index is a definitive and widely cited global resource benefiting the international attractions industry and many other sectors including financial, real estate, education, hospitality, retail, travel and tourism. It is a vital reference for the media.

It is published in PDF format in English and Chinese language versions on the TEA and AECOM websites.

Click here to view the 2020 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index on the TEA website.

Click here to view the 2020 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index on the AECOM website.

Main image: Stunt performance at the theme land of WaterWorld at the Universal Beijing Resort. Credit: Xinhua.

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