Merlin: Nick Varney’s six point growth driver plan

  • Check out our feature on Merlin Entertainments’ Nick Varney – the marketer in charge of a £2.25bn business here
  • Get an insider’s view of Merlin’s structure here
  • Varney says: “The most efficient channel for us is publicity”, read why here
  • See APR chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America Rosanna Fiske’s response to this feature here
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1 Existing estate growth

“We are developing our existing estates by always putting in new rides or attractions. We are very focused on giving people a reason to visit us. Whether it’s a simultaneous launch worldwide of nine Lady Gaga figures in Madame Tussauds or the new Raptor ride at [Italian theme park] Gardaland, we aim to give people a compelling proposition that they can understand in one hit. We have a planned investment cycle of capital expenditure for this. This year, each Merlin attraction will have something new some will be big, some will be small, but there will definitely be something.”

2 Midway rollout

“With our Midways Sea Life, Madame Tussauds, the Eye brand and so on we are rolling out seven or eight of these a year. There’s nothing to stop us adding more brands to those rolling out in due course. That’s a difference between us and other operators.”

3 Resort positioning for theme parks

“Some people might have called Chessington World of Adventures a regional theme park. But now we have a hotel there which was full up at school half-term with lots of families taking a short break. It now combines a zoo safari with a theme park with lots of rides.

“And increasingly, we’re bringing our Midway attractions alongside theme parks to make them resorts. Several of our parks have Sea Life centres next to them. If you have a hotel by an attraction, people will come from further away. They may stay for several days. When they do that, they enjoy it more and spend more money. And then we can give them even more things to do.

“So beside Legoland California, we have a Sea Life centre and a Legoland water park. All of a sudden, we’ve got tourists coming from another state to stay there so we have to build a 250-room hotel. We’re building another hotel at Legoland Windsor. We’re no mean hotel operator but it’s not that we want to be in hotels; it’s because filling the accommodation is the fundamental signal of how the market is performing.”

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4 Group synergies

“We have 23 attractions in the UK soon to be 25 so we can do group promotions. We’re on Kellogg’s cereal packs; we’re working with Tesco Clubcard. We can do the same in Germany with our 14 businesses there. Next year we will do the same in America. It’s not just promotions either we can also use the same e-commerce platforms in each market. We also have the Merlin annual pass which allows entry to multiple attractions and has 200,000 UK holders, which is quite some database. There are obvious procurement synergies across the portfolio, too.”

5 Development of Legoland parks

“We’re building Legoland Florida, which we will own and operate. That’s a sweet deal as we acquired a park that had closed down, so for half the cost and half the time, we have been able to launch that. Meanwhile Legoland Malaysia is being funded predominately by the government there as an economic generation project. We will operate that park and over time take equity in it. So we have a very flexible model.”

6 Strategic acquisitions

“We’ve made big acquisitions in our time, like the Legoland parks, Gardaland and the Tussauds Group. We’ve also made medium-sized ones, such as the Sydney Attractions Group, and small one-off ones, like the London Aquarium. We can do all these because they can fit into our portfolio. The Sydney Aquarium will become a Sea Life centre, the Sydney Tower observation deck will be the Sydney Tower Eye and will have the same branding and 4-D show associated with the London one. It isn’t all just about organic growth.”

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