Regional theme parks are having a renaissance

Local tourist attractions are gaining traction with stir-crazy, budget-conscious consumers.

If you ever begged your parents for a trip to Disneyland but instead found yourself shooting out of a waterslide two hours from home, then you’ve probably visited a regional theme park.

Multiple theme park rides with people walking around on a rainbow background.

And much to the dismay of Disney-loving kids everywhere, they’re becoming increasingly common as consumers look to travel more and pay less, per The Wall Street Journal.

But these parks are working hard to make the trip worthwhile:

  • Six Flags Entertainment and Cedar Fair had an $8B merger in 2023, joining their combined 27 amusement parks, 15 water parks, and nine resorts. In the 12 months leading up to Q3 of 2023, the companies saw 48m guests.
  • British theme park operator Merlin Entertainments opened a Legoland park in New York in 2021 and is working on a Peppa Pig park in Dallas-Fort Worth after opening one in Florida in 2022.
  • Great Wolf Lodge has 20 indoor water park locations across the US and Canada with more planned. By 2025, ~90% of the US population will be within a four-hour drive of a park. The chain has ~8.7k rooms, up from 4.3k in 2014, and the average occupancy rate is ~80% annually, up from 65% 10 years ago.

Some of the success might be due to deep-pocketed backers: The Blackstone Group acquired a 65% stake in parent company Great Wolf Resorts in 2019 and holds a majority stake in Merlin Entertainments.

Along for the ride

The demand seems to be gaining momentum — the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions estimates a 2% increase in theme park attendance this summer, totaling 300m+ annual visits.

Smaller players are also trying to ride the trend. Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho opened the “longest dueling water coaster” in the US this month, and Maine’s Funtown Splashtown USA added its first new ride in 20 years last summer.

And, of course, the major players are on it, too. Universal broke ground on a kids’ resort outside of Dallas, and Mattel is opening Adventure Parks in Arizona and Kansas.

The biggest potential obstacle? “We’re going to our nearest regional theme park!” just won’t hit the same at the Super Bowl.

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