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Amusement parks: It’s all Change at Merlin Entertainments Group


Leading global visitor attraction operator, Merlin Entertainments, has announced a number of senior promotions which will take effect over the next 2-3 months.  These appointments not only reflect Merlin’s confidence in the global visitor attraction market despite the current economic climate; but the fact that the company is continuing to expand at a time when many other businesses in the sector are contracting.   The company is enjoying significant growth both through enhanced performance in its existing sites; and a dynamic global roll-out programme of its key ‘midway’ brands such as Madame Tussauds; Sea Life and Legoland Discovery Centres.

The fact that all of these are significant internal promotions also underlines the company’s commitment to the personal development of all its employees, looking to provide appropriate training and support to individuals to help them meet their career aspirations within the company.

Merlin has an excellent record for promoting internally, beginning with encouraging seasonal employees to apply for permanent positions; and the instigation of a graduate training scheme three years ago which in 2008 alone attracted over 1000 applications for the 12 places on offer.

Every individual within the company also has a personal development plan.  This incorporates personal objectives, regular performance reviews and career discussions to help each person identify their development needs and take ownership for their career.

 The Changes

Following the restructure of Merlin’s Midway Operating Group announced in October, Russell Barnes has been appointed Divisional Director Midway Development.  Reporting to Midway MD Glenn Earlam, and working closely with the company’s Property and Development Group, Russell will oversee all new brands, new openings and emerging markets giving key attractions high focus at a crucial stage in their development.

Russell’s previous role as Divisional Director Alton Towers Resort will be taken by Ian Crabbe who moves to Alton from Birmingham Sea Life – the company’s largest and highly successful aquarium attraction.  He will continue to reinforce the Resort’s positioning as the UK’s must-do family short break, bringing to the task his considerable experience across the company with its key brands.

Peter Ronchetti moves from Divisional Director Thorpe Park to General Manager Legoland California.  Peter will oversee significant planned investment in California including a new hotel, as Legoland rapidly builds its position as a primary draw for visitor to the West Coast of America.   He takes over from John Jakobsen who had previously been combining this attraction role with his broader responsibilities as Managing Director of the Legoland Division. Major new projects in this Division means that John needs to concentrate fully on these, and he will relocate to Merlin’s Head Office in Poole.

Mike Vallis is promoted to Divisional Director Thorpe Park – the company’s primary ‘thrill’ park in the UK in which Merlin will be putting significant investment in 2009, including a major new ride – Saw – The Ride.   He moves there from Chessington World of Adventures & Zoo, where he was responsible for a major repositioning of the Park following its acquisition by Merlin in 2007.

His role as Divisional Director at Chessington will be taken over by David Smith, previously Finance Director at AltonTowers.  This promotion is David’s first senior operational role, and he takes over at the Park following an excellent year where the opening of Sea Life on Park gave the Group’s popular family Park in Surrey new impetus; and reinforced its winter offer which is based around its animal adventures.

Hans Aksel Pedersen has also been promoted into his first General Manager role.  He has moved to Germany as General Manager Legoland Deutschland, from Senior Marketing and Sales Director Legoland, Windsor.   Last year Germany saw the opening of its first Holiday Village – themed accommodation which reinforces the strategy of encouraging 2 or more day visits from visitors in the future.

After a very successful 18 months at the London Dungeon which has seen it significantly raise its profile in the Capital, Colin Thomas is crossing the pond to become General Manager Xanadu.  Merlin is building two new attractions in this New Jersey development due to open in 2009 – a Legoland Discovery Centre, and the Pepsi Globe – an observation wheel looking towards the Manhattan Skyline.  Colin will report to Janine Di Gioacchino, Merlin’s General Manager Midway USA East.

Colin’s role as General Manager of the London Dungeon will be taken by Nikki Ratcliffe, promoted from her previous role as Head of Operations at Chessington World of Adventures.  Nikki will have a challenging objective to take the Dungeon into the Top 10 of London attractions in 2009.

Other appointments arising as a result of these changes will be announced shortly.  Commenting Merlin Entertainments’ Director of Human Resources, Lesley Lloyd Steer said:  “We are delighted at these appointments which show just how robust our succession planning is, despite our dynamic growth. These, and the other appointments we are recruiting for underline the quality and commitment of our employees at every level and the opportunities Merlin is now offering worldwide”

 For further information please contact:

Sally Ann Wilkinson/Penny Roberts      
Tel: ++ 44 20 8899 6110
Mobile: ++ 44 7774 415372/ ++ 44 7887 542490
Home:  ++ 44 20 8948 3725 (Sally Ann Wilkinson)
Email: /     

 The  Merlin Entertainments Group is the leading name in location based, family entertainment, which has seen the most successful and dynamic growth of any company in the sector over the last five years.   The world’s second largest visitor attraction operator, Merlin has 58 attractions and six hotels in 12 countries and across 3 continents.   The company aims to deliver memorable and rewarding experiences to its 34.7 million visitors worldwide, through its iconic global and local brands, and the commitment and passion of its managers and 13, 500 employees.   Merlin Entertainments operates the following attractions – Sea Life, Madame Tussauds, Legoland, The London Eye, Dungeons, Gardaland, Legoland Discovery Centres, Heide Park, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle, Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures & Zoo, and Earth Explorer.

See also:
Merlin Entertainments Passes on VAT Cut

Shears to Lead Site Search for Merlin Entertainments Group
Merlin Entertainments Group : Midway Reorganisation
Merlin Entertainments Group continues Aggressive Growth Strategy

Image: Courtesy London Dungeons

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