Press Release

September 23, 2021

TEA and AECOM’s definitive global attraction attendance report shows industry resilience in 2020 and the beginnings of recovery


September 23, 2021 — Year 2020 was a difficult year for theme parks, water parks and museums, which are by their nature dedicated to bringing people together in large groups. Around the world, due to the pandemic most of these venues were closed for significant periods in 2020, and steep attendance declines were the inevitable result. At the same time, operators and markets have shown remarkable resiliency and are already on the path to recovery in 2021, considered a “bounce-back year” in what is forecast to be a three-year recovery cycle.

This is explored in the 2020 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index, the definitive resource of attendance information on the world’s most-visited theme parks, water parks and museums, now in its 15th annual edition. This annual, calendar-year study is produced by collaboration of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and the Economics practice at AECOM. The new, 2020 edition was officially released Sept 22, 2021. This report and all prior editions back to 2006 are available to download in full, free of charge from the TEA website and AECOM website.

“The TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index truly sets the bar for how our global association serves the global leisure industry,” said TEA International Board President Chuck Fawcett of Animax Designs. “Theme parks, water parks and museums are landmarks of cultural tourism and engines of economic development, and the TEA/AECOM Theme Index provides critical benchmarking and context for key decision makers. TEA values its continuing partnership with AECOM and the ability to provide this valuable resource to our business community.”

The 2020 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index studies the sector by region (The Americas, Asia-Pacific, EMEA), the global market as a whole and the top operators. The report charts and discusses the effects of the pandemic on the industry in 2020 and the subsequent signs of recovery and heightened innovation already begun.

“The 2020 attendance numbers are largely due to regulatory restrictions limiting parks’ operating days and capacities and not park popularity and management,” said John Robinett, Senior Vice President – Economics, AECOM. “We are already seeing a surge of pent-up demand. The speed with which guests returned to parks and museums once they reopened attests to the vital role these leisure outlets play in people’s lives.”

Robinett said, “We can’t expect recovery to equal an instant return to 2019 numbers: those represented an economic peak, the best in five decades. A more realistic expectation would be to achieve a level comparable to an average of several years pre-COVID. Following the steep drop of 2020, we can expect that 2021 will manifest as a bounce-back year and that 2022 will usher in real recovery. In 2023, guest expectations will rise, and operators should plan and budget for reinvestment accordingly.”

In the US, most theme parks and water parks were open Jan 1, 2020, but shut down mid-March. The top 20 North American theme parks saw a total drop in attendance of -72%.
Closures and reopenings were state-regulated. Florida parks began re-opening in early to mid-summer 2020, with capacity limits. In California, most parks remained shut throughout 2020.

Marina Hoffman, Senior Analyst / Hospitality Consultant, Economics, AECOM said, “The pain rippled through the industry as well as the fan base. But as soon as parks could reopen, guests returned in large numbers, and operators adapted. Though economically disrupted by the pandemic and now facing staffing and operations challenges, the industry looks ahead. Major theme park operators and big chains – including Disney, Universal, Six Flags, Cedar Fair and Herschend – have continued with construction projects, new attraction openings and plans for the future. Even in the hard-hit water parks sector there is encouraging new development.”

In the Asia-Pacific region, the top 20 theme parks saw attendance numbers drop a total of -58% in 2020. Looking only at China, the numbers tended to be more favorable. Being hit very early in the pandemic, China was the first to implement restrictions and closures in 2020. Nonetheless, China added some 20 parks during the pandemic. Recent openings include Universal Beijing Resort, a new water park at Ocean Park Hong Kong, new parks in the OCT and Fantawild chains and an expansion of Chimelong Paradise.

Chris Yoshii, Vice President – Economics, Asia-Pacific, AECOM said, “China continues to move toward a leading global position in the theme parks and attractions industry. The establishment of Universal Beijing Resort and continuing success of Shanghai Disney Resort represent an upward trajectory and reinforces the notion of quality for parks in China and Asia – raising the bar in the use of technology and media and spurring others to follow suit.”

Beth Chang, Executive Director – Economics, Asia-Pacific, AECOM said, “China’s theme parks and water parks have had access to a much smaller pool of tourists than previously, but have the country’s sizeable, local population to draw upon. Those parks already oriented to local markets were able to sustain higher attendance numbers.”

In the EMEA region total attendance decline in 2020 was -66% for the top 20 theme parks and -61% for the top 10 water parks. Parks catering mostly to regional markets saw lesser attendance drops than those relying more on tourism. Overall, the sector did relatively well in pandemic-hit 2020 and is poised to recover more quickly than some other markets, simply because European parks skew regional.

Jodie Lock, Associate – Economics, Asia-Pacific and EMEA, AECOM said, “European theme park operators are moving ahead with expansion and improvement, locally and internationally. These include Futuroscope’s extensive Vision 2025 plan, the opening of Puy du Fou España, Merlin Entertainments expanding the global network of LEGOLAND parks and a multi-year expansion at Disneyland Paris. Meanwhile in the Middle East, Dubai is set to welcome the world for a six-month world’s fair beginning this October. Water parks in EMEA performed marginally better in 2020 than theme parks, with the top-attended parks in Northern Europe and the UAE. The more regional their visitor base, the better they performed.”

Attendance at the world’s top 20 museums in 2020 showed a total decrease of -78%, across all regions from the prior year. Museums were one of the visitor attraction categories most negatively affected by COVID-19. They were liable to be closed for long periods, subject to rigorous capacity limits and control measures due to being primarily indoor facilities. Those with attendance models heavily reliant on international tourism suffered most.

Blockbuster touring exhibits, new museums, expansions and exhibitions were delayed, but began to resurge in 2021. The pandemic prompted museums to regroup and deliver content online, to enthusiastic reception by communities and educators.

Linda Cheu, Vice President – Economics, Americas, AECOM said, “Our museum community deserves a commendation for its resilience and dedication during the pandemic. Facing considerable challenges, museums everywhere showed themselves to be innovative in pivoting to online content and virtual experiences to continue serving their missions – and stay connected to the communities that needed them more than ever. While full recovery is some ways off, post reopening numbers have been encouraging, reflecting substantial, pent-up demand for museum experiences.”

The TEA website and AECOM website are the official sources to view and download the latest, full version of the 2020 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index, as well as past reports dating to 2006, free of charge.

“The TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index stands as an invaluable and meticulously researched business and educational resource, supporting TEA’s mission to educate and enrich its members and the industry,” said TEA Executive Director Lindsey Nelson. “The press, researchers, analysts, industry companies, operators and investors, students and many others turn to it year-round for statistics, industry background and insight. It shares a wealth of historical and current information. TEA is delighted to continue its longstanding collaboration with AECOM to produce this yearly report.”

Since 2006, TEA and AECOM have collaborated to produce and publish the annual TEA/AECOM Theme Index and make the report available free as a resource and reference for business and education. It was expanded to include the Museum Index in 2012. The TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index is a definitive and widely cited global resource benefiting the international attractions industry and many other sectors including financial, real estate, education, hospitality, retail, travel and tourism. It is a vital reference for the media. It is published in PDF format in English and Chinese language versions on the TEA and AECOM websites, and in a limited print edition.

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) is an international non-profit association representing the world’s leading creators, developers, designers and producers of compelling places and experiences. Our members bring the experience of engaging storytelling and entertainment to a vast number of theme parks, waterparks, museums, wildlife attractions, casinos, hotels/resorts, restaurants, retail stores, sports/performance venues, and an ever-growing list of destinations that aim to bring a higher level of visitor experiences worldwide. Visit #TEAthemeindex @tea_connect

AECOM is the world’s trusted infrastructure consulting firm, delivering professional services throughout the project lifecycle – from planning, design and engineering to program and construction management. On projects spanning transportation, buildings, water, new energy and the environment, our public- and private-sector clients trust us to solve their most complex challenges. Our teams are driven by a common purpose to deliver a better world through our unrivaled technical expertise and innovation, a culture of equity, diversity and inclusion, and a commitment to environmental, social and governance priorities. AECOM is a Fortune 500 firm and its Professional Services business had revenue of $13.2 billion in fiscal year 2020. See how we are delivering sustainable legacies for generations to come at and @AECOM.

Press contacts:
Judith Rubin, TEA/AECOM Theme Index editor
+1 314-853-5210

Jason Marshall, Senior Director, Global Communications at AECOM
+1 646-432-8474