Global visitor attraction operator Merlin Entertainments has topped the Sunday Times Deloitte Buyout Track 100 – Biggest Buyouts – for a record breaking third year. This prestigious monitor identifies private equity-owned companies in the UK with profits (EBITDA) of more than £50m.
Merlin has an excellent and consistent record, even during current difficult economic times when many other companies have faltered. This resulted in 8 consecutive years of double digit EBITDA growth (up to end 2008). This was achieved both through sustained organic development, including continuous investment in the company’s existing portfolio of attractions; and selected acquisition.
The leading name in location based, quality family entertainment, in 2008 Merlin reinforced its position as the world’s number two visitor attraction operator welcoming 35 million visitors across its 57 attractions, 6 hotels/1 holiday village. This was an 8% growth in visitors on 2007.
Merlin – A Proven Growth Strategy
Year on year Merlin’s core business has continued to outperform all its competitors, continually increasing the profitability of individual attractions. This has been driven by Merlin’s significant investment in new rides, attractions, shows and guest services. In 2008 this included for example the opening of a SEA LIFE attraction as part of the Chessington World of Adventures offer; and significant investment in all major attractions.
In 2008 the Group continued its growth strategy of rolling out its short stay ‘midway brands’ globally. This included the opening of a new Madame Tussauds in Berlin – already proving to be one of the most successful in the Group; and LEGOLAND Discovery Centres in Duisburg, Germany and Shaumburg near Chicago, USA. These were in addition to ‘second gate’ SEA LIFE attractions which opened in Gardaland, Italy, and LEGOLAND California; and holiday village accommodation in LEGOLAND Germany – all reinforcing Merlin’s objective to develop its resort theme parks into 2/3 day short break family destinations. In 2008 Merlin also announced plans for a new LEGOLAND Park in Malaysia, now on schedule to open in 2012.
Equally successful have been some of the Merlin’s cross attraction marketing /development initiatives like its strategy of ‘clustering’ attractions in major cities like London, Berlin and Amsterdam to obtain maximum organisational and marketing benefit ; and initiatives such as the Merlin Annual Pass launched in the UK in 2008 – which provides unlimited entry to all Merlin attractions for 12 months.
Two small but iconic acquisitions completed a very busy year for Merlin – both filling key gaps in its SEA LIFE portfolio – the biggest aquarium brand in the world. In May 2008 Merlin purchased The London Aquarium based on the South Bank next to the London Eye; and then in December added the famous Underwater Adventures Aquarium in the Mall of America, Minneapolis, USA.
Commenting, Chief Executive Nick Varney said: “Given the global economic climate 2008 was a challenging year for all businesses. However we believe that it is at times such as that, when people are more discriminating about how they spend their money, particularly in leisure, that they are even more likely to choose high quality attractions with trusted global brand names. More than that we also operate many of the top attractions in key markets which have benefitted from the trend towards holidaying closer to home.
“Merlin has also continued to prosper under PE ownership, particularly with Blackstone with whom my team and I have an excellent working relationship. They have provided not simply investment, but also the business and strategic support we needed to continue to build a world leading leisure organisation of which we are both proud; and which still has enormous potential for further growth. I do not believe this could have been achieved in any other way.”
Sally Ann Wilkinson/Penny Roberts
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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 six years. The world’s second largest visitor attraction operator, Merlin now has 60 attractions and 6 hotels in 12 countries, across 3 continents. The company aims to deliver memorable and rewarding experiences to its 35 million visitors worldwide, through its iconic global and local brands, and the commitment and passion of its managers and 14, 000 employees. Merlin Entertainments operates the following attractions – SEA LIFE, Madame Tussauds, LEGOLAND, The Merlin Entertainments London Eye, Dungeons, Gardaland, LEGOLAND Discovery Centres, Alton Towers Resort, Warwick Castle, THORPE PARK, Chessington World of Adventures, Heide Park, Underwater Adventures and Earth Explorer.