Merlin affected by rollercoaster crash

Merlin chief executive Nick Varney.
Merlin chief executive Nick Varney.
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The company which runs the attractions at Blackpool Tower has been hit by the fall-out of the Alton Towers rollercoaster accident earlier this year.

Alton Towers owner Merlin Entertainments said visitor numbers plunged at the theme park over the peak summer season.

As a result Merlin, which also runs the Madame Tussauds and Sea Life Centre in Blackpool, saw like-for-like revenues fall by 11.4 per cent across its theme park division over the first nine months of its financial year.

It warned that annual theme park earnings would be at the lower end of expectations and would probably continue to be impacted over 2016 in the aftermath of the accident.

Five people were seriously injured in the crash on June 2 on The Smiler ride, which resulted in the 500-acre theme park in Staffordshire being shut down for four days.

The group said in its latest trading update that poor weather throughout August also kept visitors away from its theme parks, while the strong pound against the euro impacted demand from European holidaymakers.

But the popularity of its Legoland resorts helped shore up wider group trading, with overall like-for-like sales edging 0.3 per cent higher in the 36 weeks to September 5.

Merlin has already warned over profits in the theme park business, saying in July that earnings would be between £40m to £50m, down from £87m in 2014.

It now believes earnings will come in at the lower end of the range.

It is still expecting the wider group to see profit before tax ‘’broadly in line’’ with last year at £249m this year after savings in financing and other costs.

Chief executive Nick Varney said in July he was ‘’deeply sorry’’ over the Alton Towers crash and said the firm would continue to do what it could to support those who were injured and their families.

He said: “The trends we reported at the half year have continued throughout the summer. The performance of our Legoland Parks has remained strong, with very positive guest satisfaction.

“However, this has been offset by the impact of reduced visitation across the Resort Theme Parks and Euro weakness impacting visitation at our London attractions.

“While near term challenges remain, the group is making good progress on its growth strategy. We have significant new investments planned across the estate and are well placed to deliver these in 2016 and beyond.”