Profits rise at Merlin as customers return following terror attacks

Alton Towers owner Merlin Entertainments booked a rise in sales and profits last year as the firm bounced back from the string of London terror attacks that had hit its performance in 2017.

Figures out on Thursday showed the theme park and tourist attraction operator booked a 4.9% rise in pre-tax profits to £285 million in 2018, while sales grew 5.9% to £1.69 billion.

Merlin, which is also behind Madame Tussauds and Thorpe Park, said it was boosted by new attractions, good weather and the roll-out of 644 hotel rooms in Legoland.

In the capital, where the firm operates the London Eye and London Dungeons, Merlin returned to growth in the second half of the year after being hit in 2017 by a wave of terror attacks.

A record 67 million visitors walked through its doors last year, an increase of 1.4%.

Chief executive Nick Varney said: “2018 saw improved momentum across most of our businesses, reflecting the strength of our diversified portfolio and geographic spread.

“Resort theme parks benefited from successful product investment such as Wicker Man at Alton Towers; Legoland parks growth was driven by record levels of accommodation openings; and, in addition to the contribution of seven new attractions, Midway saw improving trends in London.”

Shares were up 2.5% in morning trade at 361p.

However, the firm also flagged “significant cost pressures” it has faced, including having to fork out for the National Living Wage and rising utility and business rates bills.

It also bemoaned tighter labour markets in California, Bavaria and the South East of England, and Merlin is looking to make to £35 million of annual cost savings by 2022 as part of a “productivity agenda”.

Mr Varney added: “Not only will this help underpin our financial outlook, it will better enable our people to deliver what matters most to our guests: fantastic memorable experiences.”

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