Visitor numbers up at Alton Towers owner

The National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham is one of Merlin Entertainments' tourist attractions

Theme park and leisure group Merlin Entertainments hopes it has laid the foundations for a successful summer after increasing visitor numbers during the first half of the year.

The owner of West Midlands attractions Alton Towers, Bear Grylls Adventure and Warwick Castle welcomed nearly 1m more visitors, which generated an 8% increase in revenue to £763m.

Nick Varney, Merlin’s chief executive, said: “Group performance year to date has been broadly in line with our expectations in the seasonally quieter first half of the year.”

Merlin is the world’s second-biggest visitor attractions group behind Walt Disney. It owns Sealife Centre, Legoland and Madame Tussauds attractions around the world alongside other tourist destinations.

In June former owner and major shareholder Kirkbi agreed a £4.8bn deal to take the FTSE 100 company private again.

One of the reasons was to reduce the scrutiny on the short-term performance of the business and free it up to implement what it believes is the correct long-term strategy.

A key aspect of that is the greater emphasis on accommodation and it recently opened 102 Stargazing Pods at Alton Towers, and 260 rooms at resorts in Denmark and Italy. It now has 4,500 rooms at its sites, which account for around one-quarter of its theme park revenues.

However Merlin does face some challenges. Underlying pre-tax profits were down 21% in the period, to £34m, while the performance of its Legoland Parks was “disappointing”.

Varney added: “Although we enjoyed a strong Easter and Spring Break performance, trading since then has been affected by poor weather in May and June, difficult market conditions in a number of countries and limited momentum from The Lego Movie 2.”