Seaworld shares nosedive after rapid collapse in visitor numbers

Company says half a million fewer visitors not due to controversy around keeping killer whales and dolphins in captivity.

Ben Chapman
Tuesday 20 September 2016 17:50
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SeaWorld's profits have been hit by a sharp fall in visitors
SeaWorld's profits have been hit by a sharp fall in visitors

Troubled theme park operator SeaWorld saw its shares take a plunge on Tuesday as it announced it will stop paying shareholders a quarterly dividend.

SeaWorld, known for its aquatic shows featuring killer whales and dolphins, has suffered from a sharp drop in attendance as people increasingly turn away from the park for ethical reasons.

After negative publicity surrounding the whale documentary “Blackfish” and efforts to make breeding in captivity illegal, SeaWorld said it would no longer use the animals in entertainment-related shows and no longer mate them.

The company has attempted to invest more in roller coasters and sea-themed rides but these have not made up the visitor numbers lost.

Attendance fell by almost half a million guests this year, SeaWorld told investors in August, but it blamed the decline on factors like a shift in holidays this year, fewer Latin American visitors at the Florida parks and the impact of Tropical Storm Colin, rather than bad press.

The company said it will pay its last dividend on 7 October, and the amount it pays will be cut in half. SeaWorld says the money saved will be used to buy back its own shares.

Last month, the company reported that its second-quarter revenue fell 5 per cent from the year before, and the number of people entering its parks, which include Busch Gardens, Sesame Place and Aquatica, fell 8 per cent to 6 million.

Revenue fell to $371.1 million, from $391.6 million, and net income dropped to $5.8 million, from $17.8 million in the same quarter last year.

Shares of SeaWorld Entertainment fell about 5 per cent to $12.08 (£9.26) when on Tuesday. Investors and analysts had predicted for some time that SeaWorld's dividend could be at risk.

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