Theme parks, water parks and museums continued to be impacted by external factors throughout 2021, but many operators found ways to capitalize on pent-up demand as visitor numbers improved
2021 marked a year of recovery for global attractions, as theme parks, water parks, and museums continued to adapt to challenges driven by the pandemic. Despite the ongoing impacts of COVID, successful vaccine rollout, easing capacity restrictions and simplified travel in most parts of the world translated to increased visitor numbers nearly across the board. Though some consumers still avoided large group settings – particularly at indoor venues – the market returned to a relatively successful “bounce-back” year with expectations for increased performance in 2022.
The details of this “road to recovery” can be found in the 2021 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index, the definitive resource of attendance information on the world’s most-visited theme parks, water parks, and museums, now in its 16th annual edition. This annual, calendar-year study is produced in collaboration with the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and the Economics practice at AECOM. The new, 2021 edition was officially released on October 14, 2022. This report and all prior editions back to 2006 are available to download in full, free of charge from the TEA website and AECOM website.
“The TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index is an annual guidepost for the global leisure industry,” said TEA International Board President Chuck Fawcett of Medici XD. “Developers and decision-makers around the world regularly turn to the TEA/AECOM Theme Index for key information and statistics on theme parks, water parks, and museums. TEA values its continuing partnership with AECOM and the ability to provide this valuable resource to our business community.”
The 2021 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index studies the sector by region – The Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA), in addition to the global market as a whole and top operators. The report charts and discusses the continued effects of the pandemic on the industry in 2021 and the subsequent signs of recovery and heightened innovation taking place.
“2021 showed that the leisure industry is resilient in the face of adversity,” said John Robinett, senior vice president of AECOM’s Economics + Advisory practice. “Pent-up demand is driving a return to leisure destinations. Impressively, some operators saw an increase in per capita spending and revenues that approached 2019 levels.
“If we look at the five-year average prior to COVID (2015-2019) and compare it to numbers from 2021 we see that in many parts of the world we are already approaching those historic levels. We are seeing even more improvement in attendance in 2022 in nearly every region and parks are already responding by investing in new attractions for 2023 and beyond, which is truly the sign of a healthy industry.”
THE AMERICAS – THEME PARKS AND WATER PARKS
Among theme parks and water parks, North America outperformed every other market thanks in part to reduced government restrictions and a slowdown of COVID variants during the critical summer season. For theme parks, this resulted in a 136% increase over 2020. Waterparks performed even better, achieving a 177% increase over 2020. The region’s concentration of top parks in Florida operated with few government restrictions, though they saw a slower return of international visitors throughout the year.
“Theme parks and waterparks were eager to welcome back guests, many with self-imposed capacity restrictions and other measures to inspire guest confidence,” said Francisco Refuerzo, an economist with AECOM. “As the year progressed, many major theme park operators and big chains—including Disney, Universal, Six Flags, Cedar Fair and SeaWorld—continued to increase capital expenditures and announced projects for 2022, 2023, and beyond.”
ASIA-PACIFIC – THEME PARKS AND WATER PARKS
The Asia-Pacific region saw a 29% increase in theme park attendance; water parks saw only an 8% boost over 2020. Most of the challenges came from China’s strict COVID protocols restricting travel and mandating quarantines. Though other parks in the region fared better, much of the region’s tourism depends on Chinese visitors. Given China’s continued focus on its Zero COVID policy in 2022, this region is expected to continue on a slower recovery pace than elsewhere in the world.
“Parks in the Asia-Pacific region utilized various methods to help attract local residents through their gates including discounted tickets, new season pass programs, and exclusive events,” said Beth Chang, the executive director of AECOM’s Economics practice for its Asia-Pacific region. “Reinvestment strategies are continuing into 2022, which is a good indicator of future growth. Additionally, we are starting to see expected industry consolidation as the market matures, particularly in China.”
EUROPE, MIDDLE EAST & AFRICA (EMEA) – THEME PARKS AND WATER PARKS
In the EMEA region, total attendance increased 63% for the top theme parks and increased 24% for the top water parks. Major causes included a lack of international visitors and the prevalence of indoor water parks in Europe. Parks catering mostly to regional markets saw better results than those relying more on tourism. Impressively, Merlin Entertainments, an operator with parks and attractions around the world, reported 2021 revenues that were higher than 2019 figures for some of its properties, pointing to increased per capita spending and underlying demand for a return to leisure venues.
“We are seeing green roots of recovery for the EMEA region,” said Jodie Lock, associate director of economic development with AECOM’s London office. “The United Kingdom performed especially well since many of its parks already draw from a local market. Expo 2020 Dubai successfully attracted millions to the Middle East during 2021 and 2022. This tourism boost is likely to positively impact figures for parks in this region in years to come.”
The indoor nature of most museums around the world is one reason collective attendance at the top 20 museums worldwide was up only 32% compared to 2020, with 2021 levels still only at approximately 29 percent of 2019 pre-pandemic attendance numbers. Facilities with outdoor exhibits, such as sculpture gardens, fared better.
Museums in the US returned more quickly to blockbuster touring exhibits, which correlated to better attendance. Museums in major tourism markets, including Washington DC and in Europe, tended to fare worse due to the decrease in international tourism.
A pivot to online programming helped museums remain connected to visitors, schools, and, importantly, donors.
“The lack of school tour groups negatively impacted many facilities in 2021, but museums have been successful in continuing outreach to their communities throughout the pandemic,” said Linda Cheu, vice president with AECOM’s Economics + Advisory practice. “Already we are seeing positive benefits of this work as groups return to museums in 2022. The continued investment in special exhibits and unique events will continue to drive attendance increases for the museum market. There were also many museum openings around the world in 2021 despite the pandemic.”
ACCESS THE FULL REPORT
The TEA website and AECOM website are the official sources to view and download the latest, the full version of the 2021 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index, as well as past reports dating to 2006, free of charge.
“The TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index is regarded as one of the industry’s most valuable reports, supporting TEA’s mission to educate and enrich its members and the industry,” said TEA Executive Director Lindsey Nelson. “So many professionals reference it for the statistics, industry background, and insight it provides. TEA is delighted to continue its longstanding collaboration with AECOM to produce this yearly report.”
Since 2006, TEA and AECOM have collaborated to produce and publish the annual TEA/AECOM Theme Index and make the report available free as a resource and reference for business and education. It was expanded to include the Museum Index in 2012. The TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index is a definitive and widely cited global resource benefiting the international attractions industry and many other sectors including financial, real estate, education, hospitality, retail, travel, and tourism. It is a vital reference for the media. It is published in PDF format in English and Chinese language versions on the TEA and AECOM websites, and in a limited print edition.