SeaWorld says its big problem now isn’t orcas. It’s Florida

Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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Business has gone further south for SeaWorld Entertainment, and it’s Florida’s fault.

That’s what the top brass at the operator of marine-life amusement parks is chalking up its latest decline in attendance numbers to.

SeaWorld has struggled since the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish, which criticized the company’s treatment of orcas, sending the company scrambling to brush up its image. In March, for example, it said it would end its controversial orca-breeding program and phase out theatrical shows featuring the killer whales.

But its attendance has slipped.

SeaWorld attracted close to 6 million visitors between April and June, a more than 7% drop from the same period of 2015, helping tip it into a loss of $66.3 million for the first half of the year, it said.

Weaker demand for the sea lions, penguins, and orcas the company displays in Florida is the issue, it said.

“Unfortunately, right now, we have a Florida problem,” said SeaWorld’s chief executive, Joel K. Manby, on an earnings call.

Manby said fewer guests from Latin America were largely to blame.

Indeed, fewer tourists from economically shaken Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela have been traveling to Florida. International arrivals to Florida, excluding Canada, in the first quarter of the year dropped 6.3% to 2.7 million from a year earlier.

But US tourists had been flocking to the state in increasing numbers, and domestic tourism accounts for more than 80% of the state’s visitors, so SeaWorld may be running out of ways to capture tourist dollars.

Now Florida is facing its own tourism hurdles, such as new cases of the Zika virus, which may the latest factor that will sink attendance.