Financially, the numbers at SeaWorld theme parks continue to fall. Attendance really hasn’t picked up much either. This has led to a recent announcement that the company will be eliminating more than 300 jobs across 12 parks nationwide, as well as its corporate headquarters in Orlando. The company says this will be a combination of layoffs and the “elimination of vacant positions” … though how many of which was not provided to media sources.
While the layoffs only represent about three percent of the company’s permanent workforce – many workers are temporary or seasonal in the parks – this is not the headline SeaWorld wants to have coming out as the new year is dawning.
The company has been trying to turn the corner for some time now, after a major PR crisis subsequent to the release of the popular documentary Blackfish. While the film had myriad critics who complained about poor reporting, bad research and deceptive editing, among other issues, these complaints fell on deaf ears for tens of millions who are still demanding the parks release their animals.
SeaWorld tried various PR programs to stop the bleeding. First, they went right at the accusations with a series of counterprogramming videos, but these interviews, largely by current SeaWorld employees felt partisan and fell flat as an attempt to stop the juggernaut of anger spurred on by online rage.
The next attempt was to announce the park would no longer breed its killer whales and would, in fact, cease the world-famous orca show that had made the parks a beloved family destination for generations. That concession cost the company huge, but activists were still calling for blood.
Now, the layoffs…
SeaWorld told the Orlando Sentinel that the company is making these changes to “best position our company for long-term success, and so that we can continue to do great things for animals across the globe… We remain committed to a continued focus on the guest experience, the health and welfare of our animals, and the safety of our guests and team members. It is an unfortunate, but necessary, consequence of the restructuring that some positions will be lost.”
This statement is pure vanilla when you consider that revenue dropped about $11 million from 2015 to 2016.
Initially, the company tried to blame a drop in tourism overall, but other parks seem to have bounced back from the economic downturn of last decade. Industry watchers say there’s a more obvious reason. Local competition in Orlando and Southern California is fierce. More tourists are opting for what they perceive to be better and more modern options at Disney and Universal theme parks. Because of this, some on the outside looking in, believe SeaWorld needs to realize its place in the vacation destination pantheon has dropped down a peg or two.
No word on whether or not the company agrees with that assessment, but the public continues to speak with their feet and their wallets.