ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — SeaWorld is a ghost town these days with empty ticket lines and no one outside of few employees having been inside the park in more than a month.
The animals are still being cared for, but there are no guests and most of the staff has been furloughed since mid-March with no pay and no benefits.
“Furloughing our employees was the hardest decision we’ve ever made as a company,” said SeaWorld interim CEO Marc Swanson.
The pandemic has been a major blow to the theme parks in Orlando, but SeaWorld parks, which struggled financially for years, started the year off strong with record attendance and revenue, Swanson told investigative reporter Daralene Jones in an exclusive interview Thursday.
Attendance for the first two months was a record 1.9 million guests, up 9% from the same time last year.
“Your cash outflow is still about $25 million a month. What’s that money being spent on now because you have 90 percent of your employees not working?” Jones asked Swanson.
“A good part of that goes to debt service, care and well-being of our animals, property taxes, essential maintenance and certainly the employees who do remain,” he said.
He said the park will be able to survive even if it had to remain closed into early 2021.
When the park does reopen, major changes are likely, though Swanson said nothing has been finalized.
He said they're looking at reducing park capacity and leaving seats empty during shows.
“Certainly we're discussing things like temperature checks, hand sanitation, social distancing,” he said.
When the parks reopen, Swanson said bringing employees back would likely happen in phases.
He said it will depend on those new protocols and attendance.
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