UK theme park and attractions giant Merlin Entertainments confirmed breaking through the £1 billion turnover barrier last year as visitor numbers rose on continued international expansion.
Visitor numbers hit a record 54 million, a rise of more than 16% on 2011 as the company registered an operating profit of £258 million, up 16.5%.
The like-for-like performance was impacted by an “unprecedented combination” of exceptionally wet weather across key trading periods, the Olympics and eurozone crisis in southern Europe, the company admitted.
Current trading was described as being in line with expectations with the group expected to deliver ongoing growth in turnover and profitability.
No mention of a revived IPO for the company was mentioned in the annual financial results.
Merlin implemented a new e-commerce strategy leading to “significant growth” in online sales through re-launched branded websites.
New attractions planned for this year include LEGOLAND Discovery Centres in Toronto, Oberhausen in Germany and Westchester, New York; Madame Tussauds in Tokyo; Dungeon in Berlin and SEA LIFE Centre in Manchester. A hotel in LEGOLAND California is alos being opened.
Chief executive Nick Varney said: “Merlin made further substantial progress in 2012, beating our profit target for the thirteenth year in a row, due to the consistent and successful execution of our diversification and expansion strategy.
“We have continued to add to our world class global portfolio of attractions, which is balanced by geography, product and demographics.”
He added: “Our success was achieved in spite of the fact that 2012 was one of the most challenging years we have experienced since founding Merlin in 1999, with the unprecedented combination of three negative factors creating an extremely tough trading environment for many of our European attractions.
“In northern Europe our theme parks were hit by the wettest weather on record through all of our key trading periods while those in southern Europe felt the impact of the continued eurozone crisis.
“In the UK our attractions had to compete with the London Olympics – a £10 billion, ‘once in a lifetime’ event that attracted more than 10 million visitors in the middle of our peak season.”
However, he said 2012 was one of the company’s most significant years in terms of expansion.
“We opened seven new attractions across Asia Pacific, North America and Northern Europe and Merlin now operates almost 100 attractions across four continents,” said Varney.
“We are committed to maintaining this momentum through 2013 and beyond with a strong schedule of new openings and exciting plans for the ongoing development of our existing attractions.
“While the economic outlook remains uncertain, the investments we made through 2012 and our unrelenting focus on customer satisfaction mean that Merlin is stronger than ever and better placed to deliver even more memorable experiences in 2013.
“The business continues to broaden its international footprint, diversifying its revenues and providing further exposure to faster growing economies in Asia Pacific and North America.
“All this means our iconic brands will attract more visitors in more locations around the world through 2013 and we look forward to a challenging but exciting year.”
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