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Theme Park Attendance In 2020 Was Even Worse Than We Feared

Partners statue at Walt Disney World

There wasn't an industry in the world that wasn't severely impacted by the global pandemic and the massive, nearly global, shutdown that occurred in early 2020. While the severity of the impact was different from one industry to the next, any place where large crowds of people tended to gather, from concert venues to movies theaters, were certainly hit the hardest. This also includes the theme park industry. Nearly every park in the world was closed for at least some amount of time, and some were closed for most of the year, now we have some hard numbers to show just how badly theme parks had it, and it's pretty terrible, as the industry saw a 67% drop in attendance compared to 2019.

The Themed Entertainment Association has released it's annual industry report, which includes a lot of information about theme parks in general, but under the circumstances the biggest news is likely the attendance figures for the top 25 theme parks in the world. Those 25 parks combined for a total attendance of 83.1 million people, which might seem like a lot, except that in 2019, the figure was 253.7 million. That's a 67.2% drop in attendance. The massive drop is obviously due to the coronavirus pandemic, which caused massive park closures, limited capacity in the parks once they did reopen, and also included travel restrictions preventing some guests from visiting.

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom still welcomed more visitors than any other theme park in the world, with just short of 7 million guests in 2020, but that's down from nearly 21 million the year before. The largest percentage drop in a single park belonged to Disneyland Park, which only saw a bit over 3.5 million guests, a drop of 80%. The park was only open for about the first 10 weeks of 2020 before it closed, and did not reopen until 2021, and even then, it was initially only to California residents. Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris only saw 1.4 million visitors in 2020, the lowest of any park in the top 25.

One interesting statistic is that the Walt Disney World park that saw the largest percentage drop was Disney's Animal Kingdom, which saw a 70% decline while the other three parks in the resort were in the mid to high 60s. Animal Kingdom has been, and still was in 2020, the second most popular park at Disney World. It was also open longer than Epcot and Hollywood Studios, making its larger than average drop an odd anomaly.

Knowing that the entire industry was hit hard in 2020 is one thing but seeing it in hard numbers is something else entirely. These attendance numbers don't simply represent people that couldn't enjoy the parks, but employees who couldn't work in them. Most if not all parks still are not running at full capacity, so a year from now when we're looking at 2021 attendance numbers, while they'll certainly be better than what we see here, they will still almost certainly be down compared to 2020.

With new attractions, the return of annual passes, and more, we have already seen a lot of people return to theme parks. And while we're certainly not out of the woods quite yet, people are returning to the parks in greater numbers. By 2022, we may see more people visit the parks than ever before.

Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.