Sun Jun 16, 2013 9:35 pm
Mon Jun 17, 2013 7:23 pm
SeaWorld's 50th Celebration
Starting in 2014, we will be bring you SeaWorld’s 50th Celebration! – A celebration marked by a whole new “Sea of Surprises.” All three SeaWorld parks will be sharing the fun and delight throughout the 18-month celebration with uniquely SeaWorld moments. Starting March 21, 2014, we invite guests to join us as we celebrate with new interactive experiences, new shows and daily entertainment, more up-close animal encounters throughout the park, and a Surprise Squad treating guests with prizes every day.
With its new Antarctica-themed land open, SeaWorld is turning its attention to 2014.
SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. said Tuesday it will launch a 50th anniversary celebration early next year that will include new attractions and experiences for its three SeaWorld marine parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio.
The 18-month campaign, dubbed "Sea of Surprises," will launch March 21, 2014 — 50 years after the original SeaWorld opened its gates in California.
As part of the campaign, SeaWorld said it will dispatch more "animal ambassadors" throughout the parks to give visitors surprise encounters with penguins, lemurs, flamingos and more. New "Surprise Squads" will roam around to give away prizes such as free souvenirs or behind-the-scenes experiences. And "spontaneous entertainment" will pop up at unexpected moments along park pathways.
In addition, each of the three SeaWorld parks will get new animal shows, though the company didn't disclose additional details.
The company also said it has commissioned the environmental-art group "Washed Ashore" to carve larger sea-life sculptures from ocean debris. Those sculptures will be displayed in the parks.
Further attractions may also be part of the plans.The company said SeaWorld Orlando, which just completed the largest expansion in its history with Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, will unveil additional plans for 2014 this coming fall.
One already announced project: Explorer's Reef, at SeaWorld San Diego. A renovation of the 50-year-old marine park's main entrance, that 3-acre area will include a series of marine-life touch pools, as well as new retail and dining concepts. It will also feature what SeaWorld called a new front-gate concept, with existing ticket booths replaced by a concierge-style ticketing area with a beach theme.
That 16-month construction project has been timed to open next March, to coincide with the launch of the 50th anniversary campaign.
As promised in the lead-up to its initial public offering, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. declared its first quarterly dividend last week, paying stockholders 20 cents for every share they own.
It's the first installment of what Orlando-based SeaWorld says will be an 80-cents-a-share annual dividend. The dividend pledge helped drive both a strong debut during the company's IPO and a continued climb in its share price since then.
The dividend target could change in the future.
"That's a matter we intend to kind of revisit over time," SeaWorld President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Atchison told analysts when asked about the dividend policy during the company's first-quarter earnings call. "I can't say that we have any plans … based on our early performance, but it is something we will revisit from time to time and decide what the appropriate policy is going to be moving forward."
One reason SeaWorld has some dividend flexibility: It doesn't expect to have to spend any cash on federal income taxes until about 2017.
Mon Jun 17, 2013 8:45 pm
Mon Jun 24, 2013 11:06 am
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Thu Jun 27, 2013 9:06 pm
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined SeaWorld Orlando $38,500 and labeled the park a repeat offender, saying the entertainment giant continues to operate a workplace that can "cause death or serious physical harm to employes."
The fine is the result of a follow-up inspection OSHA conducted at Shamu Stadium on December 11, 2012.
In order to protect its employees, OSHA has recommended that SeaWorld take steps such as "prohibiting animal trainers from working with killer whales ... unless the trainers are protected through the use of physical barriers or the trainers are required to maintain a minimum safe distance.”
The fine, which was issued Friday, comes amid a three-year fight between OSHA and SeaWorld after trainer Dawn Brancheau was drowned in Orlando by a killer whale in 2010.
In April, attorneys representing OSHA said in court that SeaWorld's attempts to keep killer whale trainers safe is still not adequate. SeaWorld insisted, however, that the company was in compliance with OSHA's mandate that trainers remain behind barriers or stay a safe distance away from killer whales during the park's famous Shamu show.
Last summer, an administrative law judge upheld a series of OSHA safety violations against SeaWorld and ordered the park to pay $12,000 in fines. In his order, the judge indicated that OSHA could require SeaWorld to "install physical barriers between its trainers and killer whales" or "require its trainers to maintain a minimum distance from the killer whales." Those safety improvements were required to be in place by July 27.
That same day, SeaWorld filed a petition with OSHA asking for an extra six months to implement new safety protocols, pointing out that OSHA did not specify an exact "minimum distance."
SeaWorld lawyers said the company consulted with marine mammal experts from the Georgia Aquarium and Atlantis Resorts in the Bahamas to establish its own minimum distances trainers can interact with killer whales, although neither facility houses killer whales.
According to SeaWorld Animal Training Curator Kelly Flaherty Clark, trainers are now required to stay 3 feet away from killer whales if they are kneeling on a flat surface. Trainers must be 18 inches from the edge of the pool if they standing near the whales, she said.
Clark testified that trainers may still touch a killer whale or rub its back while standing next to the animal on a submerged ledge in the pool, as long as the trainer is positioned along the side of the animal's body between its blowhole and tail. The trainer must stay away from the whale's mouth and tail and have an escape route if the whale were to move, said Clark.
Under cross examination by OSHA lawyers, Clark acknowledged a killer whale can potentially spin 360 degrees on the submerged ledge as a trainer stands next to it. OSHA lawyers point out that it is up to the employees themselves to determine whether the whale might attempt to hurt them.
"Everything we did was about making sure my employees were safe," testified Clark, who said no SeaWorld trainers has been injured since Brancheua's death. "We haven't even had a scraped knee."
SeaWorld released a statement on Monday, which reads as follows:"SeaWorld has received a citation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concerning the manner in which trainers currently interact with killer whales in Orlando. The citation is related to the prior citation that is currently on appeal before the United States District for the D.C. District. The safety of guests and employees and the welfare of animals are SeaWorld's highest priorities. Since 2010 the company has voluntarily implemented significant changes to the training protocols for its killer whale program that have proven to be safe and effective. OSHA's enforcement activities and the new citation demonstrate the agency's continued and fundamental misunderstanding of how to properly and safely care for and work around these animals. "
Sat Jul 06, 2013 9:56 am
Orlando's theme parks, which together employ nearly 100,000 workers, are hunting for new ways to reduce labor costs with subtle cuts that make the giant resorts more profitable but could weigh on the region's fragile economic recovery.
Tactics include trimming park hours for guests and reducing overtime shifts for workers. A top executive at Orlando-based SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. likened it to hitting "singles and bunts" that collectively lead to big savings on labor — the industry's largest operating expense.
"There's no single solution to cutting hours. It's a lot of singles and bunts, and it adds up to a lot over time," SeaWorld Chief Financial Officer Jim Heaney told stock analysts during a recent conference in New York. "So we're spending a lot of time in that area, and it's largely around the operating hours."
The cuts could further pressure a jobs market still healing from the global recession. Orlando's unemployment rate is now at 6.6 percent — a figure that doesn't include thousands of "underemployed" workers, such as people forced to take part-time work because they can't find a full-time job.
Some workers' advocates accuse the theme parks of trying to pad profit margins at the expense of ride attendants, housekeepers and other low-wage resort workers who need every hour they can get to make ends meet.
"You're talking about cutting hours for people who make eight or nine dollars an hour. How much money are they really saving versus the cost that the employee is missing out on?" said Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here! Local 362, which represents custodians, ticket takers and other workers at Walt Disney World.
The cost cutting appears to be filtering through to the parks' bottom lines. At Comcast Corp.'s Universal Parks & Resorts, operating expenses as a percentage of revenue — a measure of efficiency — dropped more than two percentage points from 2011 to 2012, from 56.4 percent to 54.3 percent, according to regulatory filings.
In the Walt Disney Co.'s theme-park division, that percentage shrank from 62.6 percent to 61.4 percent. And SeaWorld Entertainment whittled it from 51.7 percent to 51 percent.
"We closely monitor all our costs of doing business," said Universal Orlando spokesman Tom Schroder, though he would not discuss specific measures.
SeaWorld, like other park operators, has made a concerted effort in recent years to shift the makeup of its work force away from full-time employees to cheaper part-time and seasonal workers. But the company says it is now satisfied with its labor mix.
So now hours have come under the microscope. Heaney, SeaWorld's top financial executive, told analysts that the company is considering opening sections of its theme parks in stages during slower periods of the year.
One of the theme-park industry's most-important operating metrics is the number of attractions guests experience per visit. Industry research shows there is a threshold above which guests will generally feel satisfied with their visit — and therefore more likely to return again in the future.
During slower, "shoulder" periods, SeaWorld says, it could still meet that minimum threshold even if certain areas of the park remain closed for a time after the main gates open.
"We've spent a lot of time looking at 'ride per caps.' So in the offseason, where there's less people in the park, our guests get to enjoy a lot more of the park. And we have, in some cases, the full park experience open," Heaney said. "We're looking at, potentially, are there ways to do more phased openings of our parks? We've done that in the past but get more aggressive in that area to manage down hours."
A spokesman for SeaWorld would not elaborate on Heaney's comments.
"Developing strategies for aligning labor with guest service in the most efficient way possible is a fundamental aspect of theme-park management," spokesman Fred Jacobs said. "We continually work to manage all costs in our parks, including labor, without compromising safety, animal welfare or the guest experience."
Disney World, the region's largest theme-park resort, has likewise made a number of changes in recent months aimed at trimming labor costs.
At the beginning of the year, for instance, Disney reduced evening "Extra Magic Hours" — extended time in its theme parks reserved exclusively for guests staying in Disney World hotels — from three hours to two.
At about the same time, the giant resort imposed a scheduling change on its workers that is designed to ensure more last-minute shifts are filled by employees who have not yet accumulated enough hours to earn overtime pay. Some of Disney World's unions have objected to the change before the National Labor Relations Board.
Some changes have been even subtler. During its most recent contract negotiation with its largest labor group, Disney management won a provision ensuring that certain types of days off no longer count toward an employee's overtime accrual for the week.
A Disney spokeswoman said that, although some perks such as Extra Magic Hours have been reduced, the resort's overall operational hours have been extended in recent years.
Sat Jul 06, 2013 10:59 pm
Sun Jul 07, 2013 12:38 am