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Cedar Fair parks recover from slow first half, report attendance, spending growth for 2018

February 13, 2019

Cedar Fair parks recover from slow first half, report attendance, spending growth for 2018

SANDUSKY, Ohio – Cedar Fair, which reported a disappointing 3 percent drop in attendance through the first half of 2018, ended the year with a bang: up in attendance, in-park spending and net revenue.

During a conference call with analysts Wednesday, Cedar Fair President and CEO Richard Zimmerman predicted a strong 2019, driven by an increasing number of can’t-miss special events designed to attract more people to the park, especially early in the season. Cedar Fair, headquartered in Sandusky, is the parent company of flagship park Cedar Point, 10 other amusement parks, three waterparks and four hotels.

Zimmerman also said that the company may stretch the time between major new rides opening at some parks. (He called it “stretching out the cadence of the more significant investments.”)

Citing Cedar Point’s record-breaking roller coaster Steel Vengeance, which debuted in 2018, and Carowinds’ acclaimed Fury 325, new in 2015, Zimmerman said: “We can continue to leverage those for many years in our marketing campaigns.”

Later on in the conversation, however, in response to a question about this new capital-spending strategy, Cedar Fair Executive Vice President Brian Witherow emphasized: “We are not walking away from those investments.”

He mentioned two new coasters coming in 2019, Yukon Striker at Canada’s Wonderland and Copperhead Strike at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina.

But, he said, any major capital expenditures will be coupled with bigger and better special events.

Company officials continue to blame the disappointing first half of the year on lousy weather, including heavy rains and flooding in the eastern United States. The drop in attendance, according to Witherow, was not “representative of a broader trend.”

Proof of that: 6 percent attendance growth from August through the end of the year, which, combined with the first six months, resulted in an overall 1 percent attendance growth across the company. Per capita spending was up 1 percent, as well, to a record $47.69. Cedar Fair does not release attendance figures for individual parks.

One way to mitigate the effects of weather and other outside factors, according to Zimmerman, is to offer more events that “create a sense of urgency.” Zimmerman said several announcements about new events would be coming in the next several weeks.

Zimmerman cited Knott’s Berry Farm, near Los Angeles, as a park that is thriving, despite not having a new roller coaster in 20 years (it finally got a new one, HangTime, in 2018). Popular events that attract repeat visitors include the annual Boysenberry Festival and Ghost Town Alive!

He added that some of the busiest days in all Cedar Fair parks are in October, when Halloween-themed events, including Cedar Point’s HalloWeekends, attract huge crowds. WinterFest, the company’s holiday-themed event, also has been a hit at select parks (debuting at Canada’s Wonderland in 2019).

Other interesting revelations from the call:

* Cedar Fair plans to test a new loyalty and rewards program for season passholders in 2019, with a broader rollout in 2020. Zimmerman provided few program details, other than to say passholders could earn and redeem rewards as they visited the park more often.

* Out-of-park revenue continues to increase, up 6 percent in 2018, thanks to higher occupancy levels at park hotels, and higher overnight rates. Cedar Fair continues to develop properties adjacent to its parks, adding a fifth hotel to its portfolio in 2019, a Springhill Suites adjacent to Carowinds. Also opening in 2019: a $28-million indoor sports center, part of the Cedar Point Sports Center, just east of the amusement park in Sandusky.

Cedar Point’s new attraction for 2019 is Forbidden Frontier on Adventure Island, on the land previously occupied by Dinosaurs Alive! The park has revealed few details about the interactive experience.

Zimmerman described it this way: “A real-life adventure where guests become part of the story, immersed in interactive encounters with island inhabitants and realistic experiences challenging their problem-solving skills, as the mystery of the island unfolds during the day.”

Cedar Point opens for the season May 11, with Forbidden Frontier debuting Memorial Day Weekend.

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