Large theme parks suffered in 2001, while regional parks hold their own

Sunday, December 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Most of North America's largest theme and amusement parks suffered declines in attendance this year, hurt by fears of air travel after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a slowing economy.

Many smaller regional parks, however, held their own or had increases in attendance, due in part to their accessibility by car, according to Amusement Business, a trade publication.

``As far as the big parks, it was not a banner year by a longshot,'' said Tim O'Brien, a senior editor at Amusement Business. ``The regional parks always say, 'We'll do all right in a recession or when the economy is bad.' That kind of was proven this year.''

Overall attendance at the 50 most popular theme parks in North America dropped by 2 million visitors in 2001, to 173 million. The 10 largest parks _ seven of which are located in Orlando _ lost more than 7 million visitors from the previous year.

Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando recorded the largest drop in attendance, 15 percent, followed by Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., down 11 percent. The Walt Disney Co. owns or operates five of the best-attended parks in North America.

The fallout from Sept. 11 could have been much worse, O'Brien said. Many regional parks close or remain open only on weekends in September.

Knott's Camp Snoopy in Bloomington, Minn., saw a 7 percent decrease in attendance, a drop attributed in part to news reports that said the Mall of America, where Knott's is located, was a possible terrorist target.

Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., saw a 17 percent jump in attendance, to 2.7 million visitors, partly fueled by a new Ireland-themed section.

Overall attendance at theme and amusement parks will likely be flat next year, but regional parks should be able to build on their success, O'Brien said.

``A lot of the parks are spending money on creature comforts, nicer restaurants, shade, more park benches,'' O'Brien said. ``The regional parks are looking for a hit next year at the gate.''