July 25, 2016
SeaWorld’s first attraction outside of North America will also be its first not to include killer whales,Attractions Management can exclusively reveal.
The company, which pledged its current generation of orcas would be its last in captivity earlier this year, has firmed up plans for a Middle Eastern expansion – rumoured to be coming to either Abu Dhabi or Saudi Arabia.
“We have moved to a definitive agreement stage, money has changed hands and we’re currently designing the park, but we haven’t made a public announcement of where and who – something we hope to to in the fall,” said SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby, speaking to Attractions Management.
Under Manby’s stewardship, SeaWorld has spent the last year-and-a-half redefining itself as a park that cares and one that wants to create memorable experiences.
Manby first announced progress in SeaWorld’s global expansion plans during a call regarding the company’s annual earnings report, saying the company had “moved to the next phase” of its international development strategy by signing an MoU with a Middle Eastern partner.
When SeaWorld announced the end to orca breeding at its parks, no mention was made of its planned expansion, only that the whales would “live out their lives at the company’s park habitats”.
The move signals a new phase in the life of SeaWorld, with plans for a broader entertainment mix to replace its iconic orcas.
“Things are certainly progressing and it will be the first SeaWorld attraction ever to not have a killer whale facility,” Manby said. “We’re looking at other really big ideas in place of that.”
Manby also unveiled his vision for the future of SeaWorld: “Right now our parks are kind of built around large animal stadiums – dolphins, whales, sea lions etc,” he said. “We’re adding in an expanded ride mix with things like Mako, which we just launched in Orlando. We’re also looking at virtual reality to bring in animals that can’t be brought in live or to go behind the scenes with animals you can’t get near. We’re broadening the entertainment mix so we’re not just about animal entertainment venues, we want to be a caring animal company that’s really fun to visit but not just about animal entertainment.”
When asked about plans for further international expansion, Manby said it was certainly a possibility.
“When it comes to international expansion, yes we would like to do that but first-things-first we are currently very focused on getting the first one done in the Middle East. We are also looking at other Discovery Cove locations and we want to expand our resort strategy for our existing parks.”