Jim Atchison, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment president & CEO, discusses his company’s record-setting financial performance last year; the future of tourism; and the benefits of private equity, with Stephen Schwarzman, BlackStone Group chairman & CEO.
sea world saw record financial performance last year and is hoping for more of the same this year. joining us is jim atchison, president and ceo of sea world parks. sea world is a portfolio company of blackstone. i didn’t know you liked penguins so much. absolutely. how is business? business is very good, michelle, thank you. we had a tremendous year lastyear, came off a record year, our ebitda up and attendance up 5 and we’re following a fairly pattern this year. you’re describing all of the new things, new roller coasters in san diego and tampa, turtle theate on and on. do you live in an arms race when it comes to theme parks to get people to come? sure, the markets we operate in orlando, southern california — very competitive. very competitive. we’re always raising the bar onwhat we offer our guests. we try to make sure we create new product that’s immersive and gets guests entertained andlearns a little bit along the way. the consumers are still coming out. is there any sggishness, a there areas regionally thatyou’re paying attention to or anxious about, doing better incertain places? sure, good comment, andrew. one of the advantages we have is a bit of a portfolio effect, we have parks and destination markets line california and florida, when we see softness in the destination market we tend to do better in the regional markets and it of course swings the other way. so right now we’re having very good growth out of the international markets in particular, really south america, less so europe ofcourse but south america and our domestic attendance is good and that’s really coming on the backs of strong work buildingour brands and telling our story under our new leadership ofblackstone. softball. sure. private we canity, job creators or job destroyers, big investors in your business. i think private equity, those who want to criticize — that could be a hardballdepending on how you think about it. his boss is sitting here,what do you think he’s going to say? it’s a softball. people want to criticize private equity should spend time with us. we were a subsidiary of anheuser-busch for 50 years, acquired by inbev and became a new company. we needed to be on our home and needed the wisdom and leadership of blackstone to help us establish a new independent company and with theirfamiliarity they brought a lot to the table. it’s not just money.what’s it done for your job and hiring picture? it’s done quite a bit. when we began with blackstone we had 21,000 employees and we’ll have about 34,000 here now. we’ve doubled the amount of capital we’ve spent with black stone and have continued that pace. private equity is a great story for us here.how often do you talk — when he’s going to build a new rollercoster and invest tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars do you have to give him the okay? i personally don’t. do you ride the roller coasters at least? we operate, andrew, as acompany. we’ve got $120 billion of revenue and we’ve got 700,000 people who work at all of our companies. but everybody has their deep down. and we have a team ofpartners led by my partner joe baratta in this particular deal and joe and his team would work with jim to figure out whether that capital expenditure is a good one. we did an amazing one down at universal with harry potter, we risked $275 million for what’sended up being i guess the greatest attraction thatrevolutionized that park, and really brought huge numbers ofpeople to orlando. so the whole issue of intelligence spending and investment in the park area can get you terrific returns. jim ought to talk a little bit about what we’re going to do with penguins, because people like penguins. my wife loves penguins so we got to — we have a new ride. a great new attraction we’re developing in orlando t will open next spring called antarctica, and this is a terrific concept. you actually get in a ride and ride through kind of the life story of a penguin and into the penguin habitat, you get out of the ride, you’re in the habitat, it is cold, but you can stay as long as you like. it’s a significant investment for us. how much? we don’t disclose theinvestment figure but i’ll tell you it’s the biggest investment we’ve ever put in that park. this has been so much fun. you go the to bring the seal next time, a live animal. i know you brought steve, but — we have 16,000 in our employee if you will and we hadtwin baby sea lions born yesterday so i’ll bring them on next time. cool. thanks for having me. when we come back final