BREAKING NEWS: 2017 Disney Theme Park Attendance Data
The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) is the most important organization in the theme park industry. As the leaders in park attendance data, they’re the industry’s trusted source for information about the business. Their data gets recited as fact, which means that an unfriendly TEA report can alter the entire perception of a theme park.
On May 17, 2018, the TEA released their findings for theme park attendance in 2017. The undeniable fact from this data is that business is good across the industry…but especially at Disney theme parks. Let’s take a deep dive into the new data so that you can see just how great The Walt Disney Company is doing.
The Meta View
The most important statistic for Disney executives is overall attendance. That’s the data point that displays how well all Disney theme parks are doing in totality. Suffice to say that everyone’s all smiles at Disney right now.
In 2013, Disney broke the 130 million barrier for the first time, claiming 132.5 million guests at their theme parks across the globe. Disney then needed three years to improve to 140 million visits in 2016. Jumping from 140 million to 150 million took…one year.
Yes, 150 million guests entered Disney theme parks in 2017, an increase of 9.6 million from calendar 2016. That’s growth of 6.9 percent across all Disney parks in a calendar year. This attendance stat indicates mind-boggling improvement year over year. Even more impressively, Disney has improved park attendance by 13.2 percent over the past five years. That’s mythic.
One Clear Winner
I’ll discuss all of the parks in a moment, but let’s start with the big winner. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is now the second most trafficked park at Walt Disney World and the sixth most popular in the world.
Over the past decade, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom have had eerily similar traffic. They’ve been within 110,000 people every year since 2008…until now. In 2017, Animal Kingdom spiked from 10.8 million to 12.5 million, single-year growth of 15.3 percent. How is that possible?
What you’re witnessing in the data is the halo effect of Pandora – The World of Avatar. While cynics wondered whether the park would have any impact whatsoever, pointing to a perceived lack of cultural impact from the number one movie of all-time, the results paint a different picture. Avatar was only open for half the year at Animal Kingdom, and yet the park enjoyed 1.7 million more visits. Given the lack of other major additions, the ONLY logical conclusion is that Mickey Travelers flocked to Animal Kingdom to see the most immersive themed land ever constructed.
Animal Kingdom improved so much in a calendar year that it leapfrogged Epcot. It started 870,000 visits behind in 2016 but ended up 300,000 visits ahead for 2017. Also, I cannot stress enough that this Avatar effect is only halfway represented in 2017.
2018 is the first year that the themed land will be in operation all 365 days. For this reason, I expect the gap to increase between Animal Kingdom and Epcot next year. It’s not a fluke, people. Disney bet big on Avatar, and the payoff is a dramatic surge in the appeal of what’s historically been the fourth most popular park…out of four.
The Other Three Parks at Walt Disney World
Since I led with Animal Kingdom, you may think that the news isn’t good for the other three parks at Walt Disney World. Au contraire mon frère! Every major Disney theme park experienced traffic growth this year save for the obvious one…and it maintained status quo rather than dropped.
Since I’ve hinted at it, let’s start with the only thing close to bad news about the TEA attendance report. Disney’s Hollywood Studios didn’t increase its headcount in 2017. Total park traffic was 10,776,000 in 2016. That number fell 54,000 to 10,722,000 in 2017. That’s a drop of 0.5 percent. In other words, it’s steady year over year. Seriously, a 0.5 percent decline at a park in clear transition is the bad news. Things are going unbelievably well for Disney’s Parks & Resorts division, folks.
While Epcot did fall to third place at Walt Disney World, it put up quite the fight in the process. Its 2016 attendance of 11.7 million had actually fallen from the previous year. In 2017, Epcot was more popular than ever before, earning 12.2 million visits. Yes, a record-setting year for Epcot still wasn’t enough to hold off the dynamic surge of Animal Kingdom.
Finally, Magic Kingdom maintained its elite status as the most trafficked theme park in the world last year. Its 2017 attendance of 20.45 million was only 55,000 better than 2016. From a meta perspective, that’s an interesting statistic. It means that Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom’s combined traffic in 2016 and 2017 was only different by 1,000 people. To numbers wonks like me, that’s pretty incredible consistency.
I should point out that while its 20.45 million visits earned Magic Kingdom the title of most popular theme park, it wasn’t a record. The park claimed 20.492 million visits in calendar 2015. So, it was 42,001 people away from a record. Due the massive increases at Animal Kingdom and Epcot, however, this was a record-setting year for total Walt Disney World attendance. The four parks earned 55,872,000 visits during 2017. And yes, Magic Kingdom is responsible for 36.6 percent of all theme park attendance at the Most Magical Place on Earth.
Quick Notes on Other Disney Parks
I’ll take a deeper dive into this data at a later date, but here are some quick hits about Disney theme parks. Disneyland Park is once again the second most trafficked park in the world. The place that started the industry claimed 18.3 million guests in calendar 2017. That is a record for the Happiest Place on Earth. The previous one was 18.278 million in 2015.
Disney California Adventure (DCA) continues to lag far behind its sibling. The second Disneyland Resort gate garnered 9.574 million visits in 2017. That’s actually its best year ever, but it still fell to 13th place in theme park attendance. It’s also barely half of Disneyland Park, which is ridiculous since they stand right beside each other. However, the impending Pixar and Marvel enhancements should fundamentally change the fortunes of DCA.
One of the reasons that DCA dropped on the total park attendance charts was good news on the whole to Disney, though. Disneyland Park at Disneyland Paris experienced an uptick. After dwindling to 8.4 million in 2016, the park recovered in 2017 with 9.66 million. Of course, the 2016 number was artificially deflated by fear of terrorism in the country anyway. 9.66 million is a better reflection of EuroDisney’s true popularity right now.
The big winner internationally was Shanghai Disneyland Park, as previously projected here at MickeyBlog. The park managed 5.6 million in attendance in 2016, a remarkable feat for a place that was only open half the year. Its first full year of 2017 was exceptional. Shanghai Disneyland enjoyed 11 million visits, more than Hollywood Studios has ever received. It was also more than Animal Kingdom had managed prior to 2017. Clearly, the demand for a great park in China has fueled support for Shanghai Disneyland.
The news at Hong Kong Disneyland isn’t as good. That park only increased 100,000 from 6.1 million to 6.2 million. It’s the only Asian Disney park that’s struggling, though. Both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea experienced modest attendance bumps in 2017. The two parks had combined attendance of 30.1 million, their best year since 2014.
The gates at Tokyo Disneyland are also the third and fifth most popular theme parks in the world. Yes, Disney claims four out of the top five parks in the world. Only Universal Studios Japan holding down fourth place prevents Disney from a clean sweep. In fact, Disney currently claims eight out of the nine most popular theme parks in the world. Their dominance of the theme park industry is total.
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