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It’s been a roller coaster of a year for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. The company — which aims to educate guests on animal conservation, rescue and research — is in the process of implementing several new initiatives designed to “turn the parks inside out” and keep travel agents top of mind in 2016, according to Thomas Valley, director of national sales for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.
After the 2013 release of the film “Blackfish,” SeaWorld came under fire from animal-rights activists who criticized the organization’s animal-care practices. But recently, SeaWorld announced that it is in the process of changing these practices, most notably by discontinuing its orca-breeding program and phasing out orca entertainment programs. To further demonstrate its commitment to treating its aquatic animals in captivity according to best practices, the company has partnered with The Humane Society.
“Orcas are among the most popular marine mammals on the planet,” said Joel Manby, CEO of SeaWorld. “One reason: People came to SeaWorld and learned about orcas up close. We are proud of contributing to the evolving understanding of one of the world’s largest marine mammals. Now, we need to respond to the attitudinal change that we helped to create.”
But that’s not the only thing that’s changing within the parks of SeaWorld, which include SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Aquatica waterparks, along with several individual parks, such as Adventure Island, Water Country U.S.A., the “Sesame Street”-inspired Sesame Place and the luxury, all-inclusive Discovery Cove.
Two roller coasters will be added this year, one at SeaWorld Orlando and one at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla., Valley says.
Mako, named for one of the ocean’s fastest sharks, will be the tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster in Orlando, racing along 4,760 feet of track and reaching speeds of up to 73 mph. And at Busch Gardens, Cobra’s Curse will take guests into the middle of an Egyptian archeological excavation, where they will come face to face with an 80-foot-long snake.
“It’s the first time in a really long time that we’ve had two roller coasters opening about the same time at two of our biggest parks in Florida,” Valley said. “That’s a huge deal for us.”
Additionally, Valley says he hopes to keep an open dialogue with agents who might have questions about recommending SeaWorld to clients. He invites them to visit the company’s blog at SeaWorldCares.com, where they can query SeaWorld employees.
“We have phenomenal resources for travel agents to go and see the SeaWorld side of the story,” Valley said. “We want to have all these resources at the tips of their fingers.”
He also encourages agents to pay special attention to Discovery Cove in Orlando, a park that is entirely reservation-based. Only 1,300 guests are allowed into the park on any given day, and it is conveniently located near seven hotels within SeaWorld’s Hotel Collection.
And, Valley says, booking these vacations couldn’t be easier. In February, the company began a relationship with Vax Vacations Access, through which agents can easily view commission information in addition to almost every amenity sold to general consumers.
“Travel agents — they’re our partners,” he said. “We want our partners to be our advocates; to engage in our brands; and to tell their customers to look at all the great work SeaWorld is doing.”
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainmentwww.seaworldparks.com