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Lack of international visitors hurting larger theme parks, survey shows

Updated:
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Attendance at North American theme parks fell by 3.2 million visits this year, largely due to a sluggish world economy that kept international visitors at home, according to an industry survey.

Attendance at the 50 most-visited theme parks in North America this year was 170 million, down from 173.2 million in 2001, according to the annual survey by Amusement Business, a trade magazine. Almost three-fifths of those parks showed attendance decreases from last year. The decline amounted to a drop of just under 2 percent.

Attendance at regional parks was stagnant, partly because many smaller parks were reluctant to build new rides, given the uncertain economy and unpredictable travel habits, said Tim O'Brien, the magazine's senior editor.

Visitors to regional parks made last-minute travel plans rather than planning months ahead, making it difficult for operators to plan, said Pete Owens, a spokesman for Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., which had 2.3 million visitors and ranked 27th on the North American list.

``There was no rhyme or reason to travel this year,'' Owens said. ``Typically, once a season starts, you get into a consistent pattern of travel. That didn't happen.''

Overall, international visits at Walt Disney World were down about 20 percent, according to analysts. In Orlando, home to seven of North America's best-attended parks, international traffic at the airport was down almost 25 percent for the year.

U.S. theme parks seeking to make up losses from fewer international visitors began marketing directly to people within driving distance.

At Universal Orlando, for instance, Florida residents saved $25 on a two-day, two-park ticket by bringing in specially marked Coca-Cola products. Sea World Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay offered Florida residents unlimited free return trips for buying a one-day admission ticket.

Worldwide, theme and amusement parks performed a bit better than in North America. A record 250 million visitors went to the world's top 50 theme parks, an increase of 285,000 visitors over last year.
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