Related: Merlin Entertainments to open 11th Madame Tussauds in Blackpool / Merlin Entertainments Group Expands U.S. Business

Merlin Entertainments Group (‘Merlin’), Europe’s leading and the world’s second-largest visitor attraction operator, today announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire the Sydney Attractions Group and Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World from Village Roadshow (‘VRL’), the leading international entertainment and media company.

The deal marks Merlin’s entry into the Australian and New Zealand markets, covering the aquarium and attractions businesses of VRL which include Sydney’s top three tourist attractions – Sydney Aquarium, Sydney Wildlife World and the Sydney Tower Observatory and Skywalk. The assets also include Manly Oceanworld in Sydney, the Hamilton Island Wildlife Park in Queensland, and Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World in Auckland, New Zealand. 

Following the completion of the acquisition, due early in 2011, Merlin is committed to a multi-million dollar investment programme under which, over time, it plans to rebrand the assets as appropriate using its iconic global attraction brands.  That means that in the future the aquarium assets will operate as SEA LIFE, the world’s biggest aquarium brand; while Merlin will convert the Sydney Tower Observatory to the “Eye” brand – its first use outside of the UK.   Additionally, plans are in place to develop two more of the company’s global “Midway” attractions – a Madame Tussauds and a LEGOLAND Discovery Centre. 

The entry into Australia and New Zealand will significantly strengthen Merlin’s position in the wider Asia Pacific region, where the group has already established Madame Tussauds attractions in Hong Kong, Shanghai and most recently in Bangkok, which opened earlier this month.  Merlin will also be opening a major LEGOLAND Park in Malaysia in 2012, in partnership with Iskandar Investment Behar. 

Merlin and VRL have also entered into an understanding to explore further attraction developments in the Australian and wider Asia pacific markets.

Nick Varney, Chief Executive of Merlin, said:

“This is an important step for Merlin, significantly strengthening our presence in the dynamic Asia Pacific region and bringing our strong international brands to another set of iconic established tourist attractions. Merlin has a strong track record of successfully growing the assets it buys and we are confident that our proven formula will work in this exciting market.

“The deal means that in Sydney, one of the world’s leading cities, we will have a ‘cluster’ of leading visitor attractions to match our strength in the London and Berlin markets. This will be the perfect springboard as we work to continue the roll out of the SEA LIFE, Madame Tussauds, Eye and LEGOLAND brands in the Asia Pacific region, complementing our existing strength in Western Europe and North America.”

Graham Burke, Chief Executive Officer of VRL, said:

“This transaction also includes an understanding to consider developing brands such as LEGOLAND Discovery Centres in partnership in Australia and Asia. We are very excited to form a strategic alliance with Merlin because they are both entrepreneurial and have some outstanding brands.”

Under the sale VRL will receive net cash proceeds of approximately A$[115]m. The deal is subject to a number of regulatory approvals and third-party consents and is expected to be concluded in the first quarter of 2011.

MERLIN ENTERTAINMENTS GROUP is the leading name in location-based, family entertainment, and has seen the most successful and dynamic growth of any company in the sector over the last five years.  Europe’s Number 1 and the world’s second-largest visitor attraction operator, Merlin currently has 63 attractions, six hotels/two holiday villages in 13 countries and across three continents. The company aims to deliver memorable and rewarding experiences to its 38.5 million visitors worldwide, through its iconic global and local brands, and the commitment and passion of its managers and more than 15, 000 employees. Merlin Entertainments operates the following attractions – SEA LIFE, Madame Tussauds, LEGOLAND, The London Eye, Dungeons, Gardaland, LEGOLAND Discovery Centres, Alton Towers Resort, Warwick Castle, Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures, Heide Park and Earth Explorer. 

Merlin Entertainments is a privately owned company. Its primary shareholders are the Blackstone Group, which purchased the company in May 2005, KIRKBI A/S, CVC Capital Partners, and the management team.