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Merlin Entertainments Continues Growth

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UK based Merlin Entertainments, the world’s second largest visitor attraction operator, confirmed two exciting new developments – the agreement to build a fifth LEGOLAND Park in East Asia, and the acquisition of a major attraction in North America.   These developments clearly underline the company’s continued growth despite the current economic slowdown. 

LEGOLAND MALAYSIA

Merlin Entertainments has signed a landmark agreement with Iskandar Investment Berhad ("IIB") to build East Asia’s first LEGOLAND Park in Iskandar Malaysia.

Merlin Entertainments will design and operate the Park and will become a 20% shareholder, whilst a consortium led by IIB will own the balance.  This exciting RM750m joint venture – LEGOLAND Malaysia – is expected to be opened to the public in 2013 – and will be located in the northeast corner of Medini Iskandar Malaysia ("Medini"), a 2, 300 acre international mixed-use development in the heart of Nusajaya. It will be the centrepiece of a 145 acre integrated 5.5m sq ft complex that will include a unique lifestyle retail centre, offices, hotels, serviced apartments and residential units.

It will be similar to the company’s four other hugely popular and successful LEGOLAND Resorts – LEGOLAND Billund, LEGOLAND Windsor, LEGOLAND Deutschland, and LEGOLAND California. 

Targeted at families with children between the ages of 2 to 12 years, LEGOLAND Parks are based on the universally popular LEGO® construction toy range. They offer families the opportunity to let their imaginations run free, and be immersed in LEGO® experiences with a unique mix of kid-powered rides, building challenges, spectacular LEGO models, interactive attractions, family-friendly coasters and shows that pull the audience into the action.   LEGOLAND Malaysia will feature more than 40 interactive rides, shows and attractions when it opens.

Commenting, IIB’s Managing Director, Arlida Ariff said that families with young children were a fast growing demographic group in Iskander; and that the region would benefit greatly from the presence of key tourism catalysts in the area.  ‘Theme parks have a proven record of attracting a large volume of new visitors, as well as increasing the length of stay and expenditure by regular visitors – thus creating a strong multiplier for the local economy. Theme parks also create a vast number of jobs both during the construction phase, and once they open’

‘The LEGO® brand is well recognised in Malaysia.  So, after many months of discussions and engagements with various operators and potential brand partners, we selected LEGOLAND as the partner for our first international theme park, because it provides very high quality educational entertainment that will attract families with young children to the area as a vacation destination, " she continued.

Commenting for KIRKBI A/S – owners of the LEGO® toy company, and minority shareholders in Merlin Entertainments – Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen said, ‘LEGOLAND is the ultimate experience of LEGO® values and potential.  We therefore welcome this cooperation between Merlin Entertainments and Iskandar Investment Berhad to bring the LEGOLAND experience to East Asia, and we are confident that LEGOLAND Malaysia will be extremely successful.

Concluding, John Jakobsen, Managing Director LEGOLAND Parks said, ‘We love the location of Iskandar Malaysia, and Merlin is delighted by this partnership with IIB. The LEGOLAND Malaysia Park will build upon the success of our other internationally recognised LEGOLAND Parks in Europe and North America, and we have no doubt that once open it will become the ultimate destination in the region for families with young children’

NORTH AMERICAN ACQUISITION
    

Merlin has also this week acquired the Underwater Adventures Aquarium in Minnesota, USA, from The Minnesota Aquarium LLC, for an undisclosed sum.  Located in the iconic Mall of America in Minnesota, Underwater Adventures is one of the country’s best known attractions, and currently welcomes more than 600, 000 visitors a year to its impressive displays of living marine creatures. 

UWA will join Merlin’s existing portfolio of six US attractions; and follows the successful opening in 2008 of its LEGOLAND Discovery Centre in Schaumburg, outside Chicago; and SEALIFE centre in the LEGOLAND Park in Carlsbad California – the company’s first SEA LIFE to open in North America  

North America is key to the company’s worldwide expansion plan to open 4/5 new attractions every year in its ‘midway’ portfolio ie short stay/city centre brands such as Madame Tussauds, SEALIFE, LEGOLAND Discovery Centre and Dungeons brands.
Indeed, several other Merlin attractions are also already scheduled to open in North America in 2009 including Madame Tussauds in Hollywood. The company is also actively progressing negotiations on sites in several other parts of North America for 2010 and beyond. 

Retail linked projects are also of particular interest to the company for the future.  The Underwater Adventures’ location was a key factor in the deal.  Merlin believes developing a close working partnership with landlords Mall of America will be important to the future success of the attraction.  

This acquisition underlines Merlin’s expertise in the operation of marine attractions.  The company is already the world’s leading operator of aquaria through its SEA LIFE brand which welcomes over 10 million visitors a year to its 28 sites including LEGOLAND California.   Merlin plans to invest around $5m to improve the product offering, dwell time and overall enjoyment of the Underwater Adventures attraction, using the combined experience of the attraction’s own team, and the company’s SEA LIFE expertise to further develop its profitability and increase visitor numbers.

Commenting, Glenn Earlam, Managing Director, of Merlin’s Midway Operating Group said:   “This is a very exciting acquisition for us.  Underwater Adventures and SEA LIFE have very complementary market positions – each taking an ethical approach to marine conservation with a strong emphasis on education and ‘fun learning’ – a core theme for Merlin.’

‘Merlin began with SEA LIFE.  Since then we have continued to successfully demonstrate our belief in the continuing fascination of aquaria as a leisure destination across the world.  Underwater Adventures is an excellent regional attraction, in a market which is very important to our future growth strategy.  It has huge potential for further development, and will also offer an excellent base on which to develop other attractions in the future. ‘ 

CONFIDENCE IN THE FUTURE

Merlin Entertainments’ Chief Executive, Nick Varney summarised:     ‘We are very excited by both these developments which underline our continued confidence in what is undoubtedly a tough market.  Our strong belief is that while not recession proof, quality branded attractions such as ours are recession resilient.  Even when times are hard people will choose to get away from the ‘gloom’, and have fun together with family and friends.   However they will choose destinations which offer real value for money, and which they know will not disappoint.  That is our challenge – to ensure we never disappoint.’

For further information contact:

MERLIN ENTERTAINMENTS
Sally Ann Wilkinson/Penny Roberts
+00 44 20 8899 6110/ +00 44 7774 415372
saw@thefirmcomms.com

THE MINNESOTA AQUARIUM LLC
Cathryn Kennedy
952.944.6559/office / 612.309.3951/mobile
cathryn@cathrynkennedy.com

Iskandar Investment Berhad ("IIB")
Valerie Ng
Iskandar Investment Berhad
T: +603 2246 0622
F: +603 2246 0601
M: +6019 263 3624
E: adeline@MY-IIB.COM

Nabila Adnan
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, Malaysia
T: +603 2718 8271
F: +603 2710 6966
M: +6016 331 5509
E: nabila.adnan@ogilvy.com

See also:
Merlin Entertainments Acquires Underwater Adventures, Minnesota
Amusement parks: It’s all Change at Merlin Entertainments Group
Merlin Entertainments Passes on VAT Cut

 

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