This is not your father’s amusement park industry.
Theme parks today are attracting more visitors and earning more money by reaching beyond – but not leaving behind – the “family-friendly” focus that has driven their success since Disneyland opened in 1955 to help the parents of baby boomers entertain their growing families. That model, which has proliferated around the world, suffered a downturn in the United States in the 1970s when the birth rate dropped after the boom, then revived with new venues such as Universal Orlando in the 1990s as the millennial population was growing up.
Today, facing another slowdown in the population of families with children, parks have adopted savvy marketing strategies to keep the customers coming. Attendance grew to 390 million in 2017 from 343 million in 2011, and receipts are expected to grow from $22.6 billion in 2017 to $27.2 billion in 2021. That’s driven largely by millennials, whether or not they have kids. In a survey, three-fourths of childless millennials said they were interested in visiting a theme park in the next year, just three percentage points less than millennial parents and far above the 59 percent of all parents. While about half of all parents consider theme parks a good value for the money, nearly two-thirds of millennials hold that opinion.
It’s the reward for smart marketing, industry observers say. Disneyland branded its Pixar Festival last year “Celebrating Friendship and Beyond,” suggesting that groups of friends as well as families should attend. The park’s new Toy Story section is a direct appeal to millennial nostalgia for the 1995 movie.
Those friend groups aren’t all millennials, though. Some parks are also aiming for wealthier people and older adults by holding upscale food and wine festivals and offering upsale premiums such as skip-the-line passes.
“I’ve heard from several people in the industry that they expect elderly visitors to outnumber toddlers in the very near future,” Robert Niles, founder of Theme Park Insider, wrote in the Orange County Register. “Other than maybe Legoland, parks can’t aim just at families with small children and expect to keep growing anymore. Theme parks need to find ways to keep fans visiting after they grow up, even they don’t have children of their own to bring to the parks.”
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is family-owned and America’s only mountaintop theme park. Visit Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park to learn more about our park and theme parks in general.