|Type||Public limited company|
|Headquarters||Poole, United Kingdom|
|Key people||Nick Varney
(chief financial officer)
|Services||Family visitor attractions and resort theme parks|
Merlin Entertainments PLC is a British operator of visitor attractions. It is the largest such company in Europe, and globally the second largest after Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
Headquartered in Poole, United Kingdom, Merlin Entertainments operates 100 attractions, 9 hotels and 3 holiday villages in 22 countries, and on four continents. Its success has been underpinned by strong partnership arrangements with both public and private sectors, with organisations as diverse as Disney and the Worldwide Fund for Nature.
In 2012, the company's properties hosted an estimated 54 million guests, making it the second-most visited theme park operator in the world, behind only Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. In 2011, the company's properties hosted an estimated 46.4 million guests. While less than half of Disney's attendance figure, this represented a relatively large 13.2 percent increase from the previous year.
In December 1998, Nick Varney, Andrew Carr and the senior management team of Vardon Attractions completed a management buyout of the company to form Merlin Entertainments Group Ltd. with the backing of the private equity firm Apax Partners. Apax sold the company to another financial investor, Hermes Private Equity, in 2004.
When the Legoland theme parks came up for sale, Varney wanted to buy it but Hermes did not want to invest more capital and sold Merlin to Blackstone Group for about £110 million. Blackstone negotiated to buy control of Legoland for about £250 million and then merged it with Merlin.
Under Blackstone, Merlin went on to buy Gardaland, an Italian amusement park, and then The Tussauds Group, owner of the Madame Tussauds celebrity wax attractions, for £1 billion.
The buyout of Tussauds was completed on 22 May 2007. The Tussauds Group as a separate entity has ceased to exist, with control of its attractions, including Madame Tussauds, The London Eye, Chessington World of Adventures, Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Heide Park among others, passing to Merlin.
On 17 July 2007, as part of the financing for the Tussauds deal, Merlin sold the freeholds of Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Warwick Castle and Madame Tussauds to private investor Nick Leslau and his investment firm Prestbury. Although the attractions are owned by Leslau, they continue to be operated by Merlin, leasing each back on a renewable 35-year lease. Chessington World of Adventures (the fifth Tussaud's attraction) was not included in the deal.
By arranging the sale-leaseback of the properties and giving Dubai International Capital a stake in the combined entity, Merlin was able to acquire Tussauds without the need for any further capital investments from Blackstone or its other shareholders.
As of 2007[update], negotiations reopened into the repurchase of Spain's PortAventura resort, which was built by Tussauds in 1994-5 and operated until 1998, when it was sold to Universal Studios. It has since been resold to Spanish banking group La Caixa.
On 15 January 2010, Merlin Entertainments bought closed Winter Haven, Florida-based theme park, converting it into a stunning LEGOLAND theme park, the 5th in the world, LEGOLAND Florida, which opened in 2011.Cypress Gardens.
Merlin had planned to go public in early 2010, but market turbulence postponed those plans. Instead, Blackstone sold 20% of the company to the private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, reducing Blackstone's holding to 34%. CVC acquired another 8% from the Dubai investment fund, giving it 28% in all. KIRKBI, a Danish family trust that owns LEGO, also increased its stake, emerging as the largest shareholder, with 36%. CVC paid a price that valued Merlin at £2.25 billion – more than six times what Merlin and Legoland together were worth when Blackstone acquired them five years earlier. Blackstone's investment was by that point worth more than three and a half times what it had paid.
In late 2010, it was announced that Merlin would purchase approximately A$115 million worth of entertainment attractions located in Australia and New Zealand from Village Roadshow Theme Parks and Attractions. The sale would include Sydney Aquarium, Sydney Wildlife World, Oceanworld Manly, Sydney Tower and the Koala Gallery in Australia, in addition to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World in New Zealand. On 3 March 2011, the deal was finalised. This was followed by the $140 million acquisition of Living and Leisure Australia which owned several attractions in the Asia-Pacific region including UnderWater World, Melbourne Aquarium, Falls Creek, Hotham Alpine Resort, Otway Fly, Illawarra Fly, Busan Aquarium and Siam Ocean World. The attractions will eventually be refurbished to match Merlin Entertainments' brands.
In 2012, the business recorded a £1 billion turnover for the first time. Then on November 8, 2013 Merlin floated 30% of the company on the London Stock Exchange valuing the private equity-backed company at almost £3.4bn.
On 28 June 2013, Merlin Australia's Madame Tussauds in Sydney controversially placed a wax figure of the former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, into a mock queue of a Centrelink office in central Sydney. Deposed by the Australian Labor Party in the evening of 26 June, and replaced by new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the publicity stunt drew wide attention, but was widely condemned for the disrespect shown to the office of the Prime Minister, and the first female leader of Australia.
In October 2013 Merlin's Thorpe Park attraction was involved in controversy when mental health campaigners accused it of putting profit before the welfare of those with mental illness. Its Halloween attractions included mazes which 'draw on classic horror film content'. Sitting alongside 'The Cabin in the Woods', 'SAW Alive', 'My Bloody Valentine', 'The Blair Witch Project' and 'You're Next' was 'The Asylum' maze, complete with 'scary patients who had taken over the Asylum'. Coming just weeks after controversies involving supermarket chains Asda and Tesco the attraction was contrasted unfavourably in some media, Twitter and by mental health campaigners who believed The Asylum perpetrated stigmatising and damaging images of mental illness  In November, just after the Halloween attractions had closed for the season, it was reported that Thorpe Park had agreed to change the name. However the official line from Thorpe Park was that they had "not agreed to change anything" and that "we have listened to the debate the Asylum Maze has provoked. For us, this has always been about a particular context – the maze forms just a small part of a larger adult aimed Halloween event. No offence was ever intended, it is not nor was it ever intended to be a realistic interpretation of a mental health or any other institution. We have taken this debate extremely seriously, and will take all of the points raised into account when planning any future events for 2014.".
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Resort theme parks
- Alton Towers Resort – theme park resort, with over 50 rides, live shows, two hotels, an indoor water park, conference centre, 18-hole crazy golf, historic woodlands, manor house, gardens, spa and Sea Life Aquarium
- Gardaland Resort – Italy's largest theme park, with 32 rides, major shows, a hotel, water park and Sea Life Aquarium
- Chessington World of Adventures Resort – South-East family-orientated theme park, with over 30 rides in themed lands, zoo, Sea Life Aquarium and Safari Lodge Hotel
- Heide Park Resort – Germany's third-largest theme park, with over 40 rides and attractions, live shows, a dolphin display (was closed in 2008) and hotel
- Thorpe Park – South-East England theme park, with over 45 rides, 7 rollercoasters, live shows and pod hotel
- Warwick Castle – medieval experiences and the UK's most popular historical castle.
- 15 Madame Tussauds celebrity wax attractions including in:
- Australia: Sydney
- Austria: Vienna
- China: Shanghai,Wuhan, Shanghai (Beijing opening 2014), Chongqing, (proposed)
- Germany: Berlin
- Hong Kong: Hong Kong
- Japan: Tokyo
- Netherlands: Amsterdam
- United Kingdom: Blackpool, London
- United States of America: Hollywood, Las Vegas (at the Venetian Resort), New York City, LA Hollywood; San Francisco (opening 2014), Washington DC
- Thailand: Bangkok
- 44 Sea Life Centres:
- Australia: Manly Cove (formerly Ocean World Manly), Melbourne (SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium), Mooloolaba (UnderWater World), SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium
- Belgium: Blankenberge
- China: Shanghai Chang Feng Ocean World (acquired 2012 from Living and Leisure Australia Group), Chongqing (proposed)
- Finland: Helsinki
- France: Paris Val d'Europe (near Disneyland Paris)
- Germany: Berlin, Hanover, Königswinter, Konstanz, München, Oberhausen, Speyer and Timmendorfer Strand
- Ireland: National Sea Life Bray
- Italy: Jesolo, Rome (opening 2014)
- Netherlands: Scheveningen
- New Zealand: Auckland (Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium)
- Portugal: Porto
- South Korea: Busan Aquarium (acquired 2012)
- Spain: Benalmádena
- Thailand: Siam Ocean World (acquired 2012)
- Turkey: Turuazoo, Istanbul
- United Kingdom: Blackpool, Brighton, Great Yarmouth, Manchester, Scarborough, Weymouth, as well as the National SEA LIFE Centre at Birmingham, Loch Lomand and the SEA LIFE London
- United States of America: Phoenix Arizona (Tempe), Minnesota (Mall of America, Minneapolis), Missouri (Kansas City), Texas (Grapevine - Dallas/Fort Worth), Orlando, FL (Due 2013/14)
- Seal sanctuaries:
- The Dungeons:
- Legoland Discovery Centre – Indoor 2-3 hour attractions also based on LEGO bricks
- Canada: Toronto
- Germany: Berlin; Oberhausen
- Japan: Tokyo
- United Kingdom: Manchester
- United States of America: Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth; Kansas City; Westchester, New York
- China: Chongqing (proposed, first in China)
- Eye attractions:
- Falls Creek Alpine Resort, Victoria, Australia
- Mount Hotham Alpine Resort, Victoria, Australia
- Australian Tree Top Adventures:
- Illawarra Fly – the longest and highest elevated treetop walk in New South Wales, Australia
- Otway Fly – Otway Fly Treetop Adventures offers both The Otway Fly Treetop Walk and The Otway Fly Zip Line Tour
- Other Attractions:
Legoland resort theme parks
- LEGOLAND – LEGO themed parks that operate across the globe.
- Denmark: Billund including hotel and holiday village
- Dubai: Dubai (Opening 2015)
- Germany: Deutschland including holiday village
- Malaysia: Malaysia including hotel and Water Park
- United Kingdom: Windsor including hotel
- United States of America: California including hotel and water park and Florida including water park and hotel opening in 2015
Hotels and business centres
Merlin owns and operates nine hotels and three holiday villages:
- Alton Towers Hotel, Splash Landings Hotel - with central indoor water park between the two Alton Towers, Staffordshire, England
- Hotel Legoland, Legoland, Billund, Denmark
- Holiday Village, Legoland Billund
- Hotel Legoland, Legoland, Carlsbad, California, United States of America
- Hotel Legoland, Legoland, Windsor, England
- Hotel Legoland, Legoland Malaysia
- Holiday Village, Legoland Germany
- Gardaland Resort Hotel, Gardaland, Lake Garda, Italy
- LEGOLAND Holiday Village, Legoland, Günzberg, Germany
- Port Royal Hotel, Heide Park, Soltau, Germany
- Chessington World of Adventures Hotel, UK
They also hold the freehold two further hotels:
- The Crash Pad, Thorpe Park, Chertsey, Surrey, England
- Safari Lodge Holiday Inn, Chessington World of Adventures, Chessington, London, England
Conference facilities are located at:
- Alton Towers Conference Centre, Staffordshire, England
In addition, the group owns and operates the Alton Towers Spa at the Alton Towers Resort, and camping in the grounds of Warwick Castle, which opened in 2013.
Merlin have many Annual Pass systems, the primary purpose of them is to offer multiple visits within a one year period, the Annual Passes can either provide entry to one or all attractions.
The Annual Passes covering one attraction are:
- Alton Towers Annual Pass (Standard and Premium)
- SEA LIFE Annual Pass (Standard only)
- SEA LIFE Annual Pass + London Aquarium (Standard only)
- Chessington World of Adventures Annual Pass (Standard only)
- Thorpe Park Annual Pass (Standard only)
- Warwick Castle Annual Pass (Standard only)
- LEGOLAND Annual Pass (Premium only)
The Annual Passes covering all attractions within their home country are:
- Merlin Annual Pass – UK (Standard and Premium)
- Merlin Annual Pass – US
- Merlin Annual Pass – Australia and New Zealand
- Merlin Jahreskarte – Deutschland
There is also available a monthly payment product available in the UK, subject to an initial 12 month contract. This is called the Merlin Membership and has benefits similar to those of the Merlin Annual Pass.
Merlin Events London manages London Dungeons, Madame Tussauds and Sealife London Aquarium for Events. The attractions are available for evening hire and can accommodate Dinner Dances, Cocktail Parties and Awards Dinners.
Attractions and products
- Merlin Annual Pass
- Merlin Jahreskarte
- "AECOM Global Attractions Attendance Report 2010". Kris Harris. 29 March 2012. Retrieved 29 March 2012.[dead link]
- TEA/AECOM (2012). "AECOM Global Attractions Attendance Report 2011". Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- David Carey and John E. Morris, King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone (Crown 2010), pp. 311–12.
- "Tussauds firm bought in £1bn deal". BBC News. 5 March 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- Merlin Entertainments, leading name in location based, family entertainment – A New Force in Global Leisure[dead link]
- "Alton Towers sold in £622m deal". BBC News. 17 July 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- King of Capital, p. 313.
- "Cypress Gardens Sold to Legoland". 15 January 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
- CVC Capital Partners press release[dead link], 24 June 2010.
- King of Capital, p. 314.
- AAP (17 December 2010). "Village Roadshow sells Sydney Attractions". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 December 2010.
- AAP (3 March 2011). "Plans for a Madame Tussauds in Sydney". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
- Ooi, Teresa (20 December 2011). "Merlin Entertainments Group conjures $140m James Packer bid". The Australian. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- Danckert, Sarah (13 February 2012). "Merlin ready to wrap up Living and Leisure deal". The Australian. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- "Locations". Merlin Entertainments. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- Giant observation wheel part of major project on International Drive