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Theme parks feel the pinch

First it was the housing market, then the banks. Now Santa Claus,Mickey Mouse and Shamu are getting whacked in the global slump.

First it was the housing market, then the banks. Now Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse and Shamu are getting whacked in the global slump.

The result is that investors in amusement parks are on a roller coaster ride — with enough sharp drops to make even those with the strongest pocketbooks feel a bit queasy.

Disney’s slashing jobs. Six Flags, which owns Montreal’s La Ronde amusement park, is on the cusp of bankruptcy protection. The Finnish government last Tuesday announced it was selling its stake in Santapark to local investors because of declining revenues.

But regional parks could benefit from Disney’s loss, according to industry consultant Dennis Speigel, president of the Cincinnati-based International Theme Park Services Inc.

Wonderland relies on southern Ontario for the vast majority of its business, making it an affordable destination for families trying to avoid the added costs of airfare and accommodations that go with a trip to Disneyland.

But that doesn’t mean 2009 is shaping up to be an easy ride for Wonderland’s owners, Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Co.

“We expect there to be a shortfall of up to 4.5 per cent” in terms of revenue and attendance for regional theme parks overall, Speigel said.

It doesn’t help that the amusement park industry is at a mature phase, Speigel said.

In the 1980s, “we would put a roller-coaster in a park and we would see a five to nine per cent change in attendance,” said Speigel. “Now they put in ‘super coasters’ for $25 million and haven’t bumped the attendance at all.

“Longer, higher and faster is kind of kaput. The public got tired of it.”

 
 
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