Theme Parks are a testament to how badly people crave entertainment. Where else can a person eat all the sweets and fried food they can imagine then strap themselves onto a 200-foot-tall machine that will send them upside down while they clutch onto their oversized stuffed pink elephant? The goal of theme parks is to provide an environment where everyone can have fun. Unlike going to movies, concerts, bars, etc; the entire family regardless of their age can have a great time a theme park.
Theme parks are big time business. Some companies make their entire living off operating parks throughout the world. Some companies simply prefer to own a couple theme parks as a way to diversify their portfolio. Regardless of how many properties a company owns, their goal is always the same: bring in as many paying guests as possible.
This list ranks the world’s most popular theme park operators by the number of guests they receive each year. It does not discuss how much money they bring in. This is because some parks are privately owned or located in countries that do not require companies to release financial information. Therefore, the best way to examine who are the biggest names in the theme park industry is to look at how many people visit their parks each year.
The Herchend Family Entertainment Corportation is a privately owned company that operates in Branson, Missouri. It began in 1960 when the Herchend brothers, Jack and Pete, opened Silver Dollar City. The two built a second park on their Branson landholdings the following year. This park was called Pigeon Forge Park. In 1986, country music singer Dolly Parton became a partner with the firm. Pigeon Forge Park was renamed Dollywood that same year. The parks operated by Herchend Family Entertainment receive an estimated 9,500,000 guests each year.
The Fantawild Group currently operates ten amusement parks throughout China. Those ten parks receive 13,118,000 guests each year. The company began in 2004 when it opened its first park in Chongqing. Like their first park, most of the theme parks the company operates have a Sci-Fi theme to them. The company is still young, but they currently have a number of parks under construction that will be opened to the public within the next five years. Fantawild plans on having more parks begin construction in an attempt to become the top theme park operator in Asia. Expect to see this company climb the list in the years to come.
SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment was formerly known as Busch Gardens Inc. It was a division of Anheuser Busch. This division was headquartered at the original SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. Over time, the parent company opened up 11 Busch Gardens locations throughout the United States. In 2008, Anheuser Busch was sold to Inbev. Inbev sold the Busch Gardens division to Blackstone Group. Blackstone renamed the division SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. The company continues to license its management staff from Anheuser Busch. The original company also continues to allow SeaWorld to keep some of the company’s world famous Budweiser Clydesdales. SeaWorld has become a must see park due to its large collection of rare aquatic life. SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment hosts about 23,400,000 guests each year.
Unlike many of the other companies on this list, Cedar Fair Entertainment Company only operates a very small number of parks. They are all based in Sandusky, Ohio. The most famous of these parks is Cedar Point. Cedar Point is often referred to as the finest theme park in the world. It is the second oldest theme park in the United States and the only park in the entire world to have four roller coasters over 200 feet tall. It is by far the most highly visited season theme park in the US. Cedar Point and the other parks owned by the Cedar Fair Entertainment Company receive about 23,017,000 guests each year. The number is especially astounding when you consider the location is not a popular tourism spot during the winter.
Parques Renunidos is the second largest European theme park operator in the world. It is based in Madrid, Spain and its parks receive an estimated 26,017,000 guests annually. The company currently owns over 50 different theme parks in 12 different countries. The most popular of these include Camelot Parks, Dutch Wonderland, and Kennywood.
Six Flags Entertainment was eventually going to show up on this list. The company owns more theme park than any other operator in world. Six Flags began in 1960 when the company opened Six Flags Over Texas. They very quickly began opening many other locations throughout the United States. All of these parks were originally based on a Wild West theme. In 1984, Six Flags obtained the rights to Time/Warner’s Looney Tune characters. This quickly became the theme for all the parks. Many of the older locations still have various locations within them that still have the Wild West theme; however anything that was put in after 1984 is based on the Looney Tunes characters. In 2008, the company declared bankruptcy. They emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 and have once again become a successful business. The company plays host to over 26,100,000 guests each year.
Oct Parks China was founded in 1985. It is unlike any of the other theme park operators on this list. Oct Parks China is actually owned and operated by the Chinese government. It was started in Shenzhen, Guangdon, China as a means for the government to promote tourism and Chinese culture. Parks operated by this division of the government include Splendid China, Chinese Folk and Culture Village, Window of the World, and the world famous Happy Valley. In China there is a system of rating national attraction based upon their cultural and historical significance. The ratings run from a single A for locations of lower significance to AAAAA for the most highly respected areas. The first Oct Parks China theme park, Overseas China, has been given an AAAAA rating by the government. These parks are visited by over 26,320,000 people every year.
Universal Parks and Resorts is a division of NBC Universal. It is actually the fastest growing division of the media company in terms of revenue. The theme park branch of NBC Universal grows faster than any other branch in the company. This branch’s revenue increased by 24 percent in 2013. This is much greater than the rest of the branches which grew an average of four percent in that same fiscal year. The theme park operator is based in Orlando, Florida. Their theme parks are all based on different movies or television programs that have been produced by NBC Universal over the years. Such theme parks include Land of Oz, Jurassic Park, Snoopy Studios, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal Parks and Resorts received an estimated 36,360,000 visitors each year.
The Merlin Entertainment Group is the largest European theme park operator in the world. The company is based in the United Kingdom and they own over 100 different theme parks on four different continents. The most popular of the company’s parks are Legoland Theme Parks, Sea Life Centres, and Madame Tussaud’s. Parks owned by the Merlin Entertainment Group receive about 59,800,000 guests every year.
This one should not come as any surprise. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts are the most popular of all theme parks. Going to Disney World is considered a vacation all on its own, even if a family were to never do anything outside of the land holding. This division of Disney was started in 1955, when the creator of Mickey Mouse opened his theme park dedicated to his creations, Disneyland. In 1971, the company opened Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom is the most visited theme park in the world. Disney only operates three other theme parks aside from the two already mentioned: Tokyo Disney Resort, Shanghai Disney Resort, and Disneyland Paris. It is estimated Disney theme parks receives over 132,549,000 guests every year.