Business Section; April 28, 2007

SeaWorld Now #4 Among Texas Attractions

Melissa S. Monroe

Express-News Business Writer

Web Posted: 04/27/2007 08:34 PM CDT

Shamu and friends helped SeaWorld San Antonio become the fourth-most visited attraction in the state.

Park officials also said there's a chance the attraction could open year-round within the next five years. Last year, the park extended its season through December. It was closed in January and February.

The Texas top attractions survey, conducted for the state by D.K. Schifflet & Associates in Virginia, puts SeaWorld at No. 4 based on 2005 research, compared with a No. 6 ranking the year before.

Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington ranked No. 5 and Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio ranked No. 13 on the most recent survey.

"This is the first time we have topped Six Flags Over Texas. This is exciting for us, and it plays a bigger part of how San Antonio is doing with having three of the top four (attractions) all in San Antonio," said Dan Decker, SeaWorld's executive vice president and general manager.

The latest ranking gave San Antonio and the nearby area the top four attractions. The Alamo was No. 1, followed by the River Walk at No. 2 and the San Marcos outlet malls at No. 3.

The San Antonio Zoo came in at No. 14, and Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort in New Braunfels was No. 17.

SeaWorld's rise in the ranking is not only significant for the park, but for the business community, said Marco A. Barros, executive director of the San Antonio Area Tourism Council. He added businesses want to relocate to a city that's growing and has a good quality of life.

"It's also going to be a lot easier for attractions to make improvements and expand. Many of them had a great year last year," he added.

That was true for SeaWorld, Decker said, without revealing attendance figures.

The San Antonio park, part of Anheuser-Busch Entertainment Corp., was honored in late January with the Adolphus Busch Award, which recognizes the Anheuser-Busch theme park that best exemplifies the company's commitment to quality, service and financial performance, the company said.

SeaWorld also has made enhancements to its park this year by adding the water roller coaster Journey to Atlantis, which opens May 12.

Not far from SeaWorld, Six Flags Fiesta Texas just opened its Tony Hawk's Big Spin — a family ride with twists, turns and a 27-foot drop.

While Decker didn't give a specific date of when SeaWorld might open year-round, he said it could be sooner rather than later with San Antonio's growing economy, which includes new hotels and residential neighborhoods around the park.

If SeaWorld were to open year-round, it would be among just a handful of theme parks that do it, said David Mandt, spokesman for International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. It also would be the only major theme park in Texas to be open year-round.

Other year-round parks include Universal Studios in Hollywood and Florida and Walt Disney World in Florida.

"We've seen in the last five years extended operating seasons at the parks," Mandt said. "For many years, it was thought that the park schedule was Memorial Day to Labor Day, and now we have the advent of Halloween and Christmas events. It gives people another reason to visit the parks."

Paul L. Serff, president and CEO of the Texas Travel Industry Association, said having a year-round park is not only good for visitors, but for local residents.

"San Antonio is blessed to have two premier parks in the country," he said. "It's a great thing for San Antonio to be able to boast."