Some of the things laid out in new CEO Joel Manby's presentation earlier this month include resort hotel development and more themed rides. These are Disney hallmarks, but SeaWorld also recently did something that the House of Mouse has yet to do in Orlando by opening up a lounge for the exclusive use of its annual pass holders.
Annual pass members can scan their passes to enter a concierge-staffed lounge complete with cozy seating, charging stations, and unlimited soda samples. There's even the option to have table service provided from the adjacent restaurant.
Disney and Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSK) Universal Orlando have plenty of available lounges. However, they are either restricted to affiliates of corporate attraction sponsors or manned by credit card companies for their card holders. Comcast's Universal Studios Florida has a lounge open during limited hours, but only for those purchasing their park admissions with American Express. Disney has a lounge available at Epcot for JPMorgan Chase credit card holders, but it's only open during seasonal festivals.
Either way, a lounge devoted exclusively for annual pass holders is something that should help set the SeaWorld experience apart from its Central Florida rivals. A place to recharge -- both bodies and smartphones -- and enjoy perks that aren't available to day guests should help drum up annual pass sales.
That's a pretty big deal at SeaWorld Orlando. The marine life park operator doesn't break down attendance by its individual parks -- we just know that the entire chain suffered back-to-back declines of 4% in 2013 and 2014 before clocking in slightly positive through the first nine months of 2015. However, industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association has SeaWorld Orlando's turnstile clicks at 4.7 million last year, down sharply from the 5.8 million guests it entertained just five years earlier.
Annual pass holders may not be ideal guests. They don't spend as much as day guests once inside the park. They tend to head over on weekends and holidays when the parks are the most crowded. However, they do provide a steady flow of customers. They also encourage friends and family to join so they can frequent the parks together.
SeaWorld's desperate, and annual pass holders are the welcome beneficiary. It's a different scene at Disney, where the theme park leader dramatically jacked up its pass holder rates last month. Comcast and Disney are clocking in with record attendance at their Florida theme parks, so the need to bend over backwards isn't urgent. However, it's a safe bet that Disney and Universal Orlando pass holders would love to see those parks finally rip a page out of the SeaWorld Orlando playbook instead.