Amusement Parks

SIC 7996

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers theme parks, kiddie parks, amusement piers, centers, and parks, and other establishments (excluding fairs, circuses, and carnivals) that operate in part or whole such attractions as mechanical rides, amusement devices, refreshment stands, and picnic grounds. Amusement concessionaires operating within these establishments are generally covered in SIC 7999: Amusement and Recreation Services, Not Elsewhere Classified.

According to The Great American Amusement Parks, the earliest amusement parks were the European pleasure gardens of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But only with the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution did the mechanical rides of the modern amusement park come into being. In this area of development, American parks led the way.

Jones's Wood in New York City, established in the early nineteenth century, was probably the first major U.S. amusement park. But its humble attractions--including billiards, bowling, and donkey rides--were soon eclipsed by Coney Island. This legendary resort first began to expand dramatically in the 1870s when a railway line to it was constructed. In 1920, the extension of the New York subway system to Coney Island put city residents a nickel away from the resort's attractions. Indeed, before the advent of the automobile, ease of travel played a crucial role: "trolley parks" acquired their name from the system of transport that brought customers to them.

Mechanized rides of the kind taken for granted in modern amusement parks reached Coney Island in 1884, with the advent of LaMarcus Adna Thompson's Switchback Railway, the first roller coaster. From their inception, roller coasters proved the most popular attractions, as well as the largest and most expensive to build and maintain.

The first ferris wheel--named for George Ferris not because he invented the concept but because his engineering talents produced the first such ride made of steel rather than wood and built on a huge scale--made its appearance at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair Columbian Exposition. Coney Island, and the many other amusement parks that sprang into being in response to its success, faced hazards from fire and water. Rainy weather discouraged attendance because most of the attractions were outdoors. Initial reliance for construction on such cheap but highly flammable materials as lath and staff--a combination of plaster of Paris and hemp fiber--meant that fires were frequent and caused great damage.

Other problems such as noise, dirt, and criminality often found in the early amusement parks became more apparent as larger numbers of middle- and upper-class Americans owning cars gained the freedom to seek their entertainment elsewhere. The formation of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions in 1920 was motivated in part by the industry's concern over its reputation. Individual parks, such as Cincinnati's Coney Island and Playland, in Rye, New York, also sought to create a more family-oriented image by making sure that structural damage, litter, and graffiti were swiftly removed from sight.

Disney was the most significant creator of wholesome amusement in its innovative theme parks. The first of these, Disneyland, opened its doors in 1955. An instant success, the park initially proved hard to imitate. But Six Flags Over Texas, opened in 1961, found another winning formula, leading to the construction of additional Six Flags complexes. Other Disney competitors also began to find new angles on the theme park concept.

American Demographics estimated that more than 50 million people over the age of 18 visited one of North America's theme parks in 1998. This obviously does not account for the large number of children who visit these parks as well. Motion picture tie-ins and high-tech rides were the big draws, with simulator rides growing in popularity. Start-up costs for a new theme park were estimated at $500 million on the low end, with a single simulator ride costing upwards of $40 million. According to Amusement Business, Disney properties continued to lead the amusement park industry. Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, and Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park, both located in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, brought in more than 35.7 million customers in 1998. Disney's park in the Florida region, Animal Kingdom, attracted 6 million further visitors in 1998. Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris also became popular tourist attractions, resulting in Disney's plan for further international expansion.

Six Flags parks, partly owned by Time Warner, used Warner movie tie-ins to boost their attendance. With 25 Six Flags theme parks across the United States, location was another important strategy for the company. Paramount Entertainment also used the movie strategy in operating its six theme parks, including Paramount' Great America in Santa Clara, California, and Paramount's Kings Island in Cincinnati, Ohio. More than 13 million people visited one of these parks in 1998. The amusement parks of MCA/Universal Studios, located in Orlando, Florida, and Hollywood, California, combined to serve 8.9 million in 1998. Anheuser-Busch operated parks such as Busch Gardens and Sea World. These parks attracted 20 million guests in 1998 and generated $116 million for the company.

Just as the tourist appeal of California and Florida aided Disney in the development of its domestic amusement parks, so location offered a crucial advantage to competitors in Las Vegas, where Circus Circus Enterprises, MGM Grand, and Mirage Resorts developed a line of casinos angled toward the family, with kiddie parks to keep children happy while parents gambled. Other operators looked to complexes combining amusement parks with retail outlets, such as the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, the largest mall in America. The mall's anchor attraction was Knott's Camp Snoopy Indoor Theme Park.

Europe and Asia were the new growth areas for amusement and theme parks. With old parks being renewed and new parks opening up, Europe saw a 10 percent increase in attendance, as reported in Newsweek. By the late 2000s, there were 300 amusement parks in Europe, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. In 2003, more than 40 million people visited the top 10 parks on that continent. In Asia, according to The Economist, more free time and increased income was spurring a leisure revolution. Shopping malls became theme parks, with more than 40 opened in China alone during the 1990s. Unlike their American counterparts, these often tended toward a cultural, historical, or environmental theme. By the late 2000s, four of the top 10 most visited amusement parks were located in Asia, and AECOM cited Asia, and particularly China, as the most significant growth region in the industry.

Industry challenges included devising ways of bringing out the aging population. Viacom Inc. started opening adult playgrounds featuring virtual reality games, while Disney marketed ads to retired couples.

According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, attendance at U.S. amusement parks rose steadily throughout the 1990s and 2000s, and by 2007 a reported 341 million people visited the parks, generating $12.0 billion in revenues. By the end of the twentieth century, there were more than 400 amusement parks in the United States containing about 1.7 billion rides.

Current Conditions

According to attendance statistics from AECOM, the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida was the most visited amusement park in the world in 2009, with an estimated 17.2 million visitors. Disneyland in California was second, with 15.9 million visitors, and Tokyo Disneyland ranked third with an attendance of 13.6 million. Disneyland Park in France and Tokyo Disney Sea rounded out the top five most-attended parks in the world. In the United States, Walt Disney was far and away the largest amusement park chain, with a total 119.1 million visitors to all sites in 2009. Other top U.S. amusement park chains included Six Flags Inc., Universal Studios Recreation Group, Busch Entertainment, and Cedar Fair Entertainment.

The U.S. amusement park industry suffered from a decline in attendance during the late 2000s due to the down economy. As stated by Ray Braun of AECOM: "Most parks felt the impact of the deepest recession since the Great Depression. The notable exception was the biggest operator, Disney . . . [which] successfully marketed special programs to its resident market base at substantial discounts." By 2010, industry participants were optimistic about a recovery.

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News and information about Amusement Parks

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Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India); June 2, 2017; 554 words
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