Disney (DIS 0.17%) has done a great job of building out Disney World into a self-contained resort. Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSK) (CMCSA 1.00%) Universal Orlando is gearing up to open its fifth on-site hotel this summer.
Then we have SeaWorld Entertainment's (SEAS 1.86%) SeaWorld Orlando. It's the most visited attraction in the park operator's chain, but its attendance has fallen sharply in recent years.
That isn't the case at its larger peers in Central Florida. Attendance at Disney World's parks are inching higher with every passing year and Comcast's Universal Orlando attractions are growing even faster than Disney World since the arrival of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
This leaves Disney and Comcast widening the gap between them and SeaWorld, and the operator of marine life theme parks is reportedly gearing up to make a bigger splash than Shamu at one of its controversial killer whale shows.
Sources are telling the Orlando Business Journal that the industry rumor is that SeaWorld has hired a hotel development consultant, ultimately seeking to build 2,500 hotel rooms across its theme parks. A SeaWorld hotel wouldn't be a surprise. CEO Joel Manby revealed two months ago that SeaWorld had entered a deal with Evans Hotel Group to explore the development of a hotel at its original SeaWorld park in San Diego. It also provided slides of where it could build out resort hotels near its other gated attractions.
If the rumor is true, obviously 2,500 rooms implies that it's considering several hotels across several of its properties. Universal Orlando's first three massive hotels only had a combined capacity for 2,400 rooms.
SeaWorld Orlando is a logical target. It may seem to be a safer bet to break ground near Busch Gardens Tampa and Busch Gardens Williamsburg, two of its popular theme parks that don't carry the Blackfish-bashed stigma. However, SeaWorld Orlando is home to the chain's busiest theme park and two distinct water parks. It's more of a self-contained resort, and having on-site accommodations would be the first step to taking on Comcast and Disney.
It's a huge gamble, of course. It could partner with a seasoned hotelier to make it work, shouldering some of the burden in the process. That's what Comcast did at Universal Orlando. Even Mickey Mouse went this route with a pair of its on-site Disney World hotels -- the Swan and Dolphin -- at a vulnerable point in its history. It's still a major undertaking in the highly competitive tourist market, one that could result in painful deep discounting if occupancy levels don't hold up.
It's still the right call. Attendance at SeaWorld stabilized in 2015 after dipping in each of the two previous years. If some regional amusement park operators with limited operating calendars have gone this route, why not SeaWorld? It checks out -- as long as it ultimately gets people to check in.