Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) is ready to let more of its Universal Orlando guests stay overnight. The resort is opening Aventura -- a 600-room hotel -- today, expanding its on-site lodging options to 6,200 rooms. The new resort will have some swanky touches including a rooftop bar on the 17th floor, but it will be priced at the low to moderate end relative to its existing roster of properties.
Comcast has made no bones about its intention to take on Disney (NYSE:DIS) in the battle for tourist dollars in Central Florida. Its theme parks had been narrowing the attendance gap with Disney before falling back last year and trailing so far in 2018. Disney has some pretty impressive attractions opening in the coming years, which will make it that much more challenging for Comcast to grow closer again in Mickey Mouse's rearview mirror. However, taking a page out of the Disney playbook by rapidly expanding overnight capacity is the right thing to do. War is coming, and battle-tested tourists need a place to rest at the end of the day.
Theme parks represent a small chunk of the revenue mix at Comcast and Disney. The media giants relied on their theme parks segment for just 6% and 33% of their revenue, respectively, in fiscal 2017. The business still matters. Comcast and Disney can use the parks to generate awareness for their content properties. It also helps diversify revenue streams. Disney's theme parks division was the only segment to grow its revenue last year.
Universal Orlando isn't done growing. It's in the process of building out a pair of hotel towers on the 64 acres of land it recently cleared where its Wet 'n Wild waterpark used to be. Surfside Inn and Suites will open next year, followed by the adjacent Dockside Inn and Suites in 2020. Comcast is pricing the properties at the value end of its spectrum, starting at $73 a night -- well below its existing resorts, which start at $116 and higher. Surfside and Dockside will add 4,000 more rooms to Universal Orlando's roster within the next two years, pushing the resort's count north of 10,000. This will still be a far cry from Disney World, with more than 30,000 rooms, but Comcast may just be getting started. Universal Orlando has lined up undeveloped land just south of its existing resort that it's widely expected to populate with more theme parks and even more hotels.
Aventura welcoming its first guests today is still a notable achievement. It's a high mark on the timeline of Universal Orlando's development -- and likely the last of the resorts it builds on its original tract of land. The theme park war is just beginning, and with Disney and Comcast eyeing some major expansion projects in the future, it's going to be a costly but ultimately lucrative battle.