SeaWorld Entertainment last week laid out a sweeping plan for turning around its ailing business that includes investing in new rides and phasing out the controversial killer whale show at the San Diego park in 2016.
Next year will be the last that SeaWorld will produce the theatrical killer whale show, One Ocean, at its San Diego park. The company will instead debut an orca experience in 2017 that will be focused on providing a more natural setting for guests to interact with the orcas and that will be focused on conveying a message of conservation through education.
SeaWorld did not say how or if it would address the orca shows at its other parks.
The move comes at a time when SeaWorld has been working to repair its image and bottom line amid negative publicity about its treatment of marine animals. The controversy was fueled by the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," a critical portrayal of SeaWorld's killer whale program. Since then, SeaWorld has come under fire from animal rights groups, and the backlash has dealt a serious blow to the theme park company, most notably at its San Diego property.
In January, former SeaWorld CEO Jim Atchison stepped down amid declining park attendance, net income and revenue. Joel Manby, former president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, took the helm at SeaWorld in April.
"The overwhelming majority of adults — nearly 95% according to research we have seen — tell us that they believe that visiting a zoo or aquarium can inspire conservation," Manby said during the company's investor presentation last week. "We see a growing trend within our core guest demographic that a vacation can and should be more than just fantasy and entertainment. Guests want to know that they're making a difference for the world we share, and our parks deliver on that promise."
The road map to recovery that Manby proposed also includes adding attractions, such as a SeaWorld Rescue-themed roller coaster, the addition of holiday-themed shows and experiences and a multiyear partnership with the Panasonic Enterprises Solution Co. A key objective of the Panasonic partnership is to implement technology that will better connect park guests with employees and animals and with conservation efforts.
SeaWorld has also penned a deal with the Evans Hotels Group to explore development of a possible resort hotel in San Diego.
Earlier this month, SeaWorld reported a third-quarter revenue increase of 0.2%, to $496.9 million, compared with the third quarter of 2014. The company reported third-quarter net income of $98 million, compared with $87.2 million a year ago.
Attendance for the quarter decreased by 0.4%, as a result of declines at the California and Texas parks.
During the first nine months of 2015, SeaWorld generated revenue of $1.1 billion, a 1%, decrease compared with the same period in 2014. Net income for the first nine months fell to $60.2 million from $75.4 million the previous year.