The strong performance of Legoland, including a new park in Japan, plus the opening of new ‘Midway’ attractions in several territories, helped Merlin Entertainments grow its global attendance in 2017 to 66 million.

That’s a 3.5% rise over the 63.8 million visits made to Merlin’s attractions in 2016, according to preliminary results for the year ended December 30. Revenue was up 11.6% like for like to £1.59 billion ($2.2bn). EBITDA was £474 million (£657m), whilst operating profit was £323m ($448m). The world’s second-largest attractions operator also continues to generate strong cash flow, with operating free cash flow in 2017 of £315m ($435m), up 7.8%.

The Lego effect

At the Legoland Park division there was 18.2% organic revenue growth due to the opening in April of Legoland Japan in the Nagoya (pictured). Opened in October 2016, Legoland Dubai is thought to have made a more modest contribution to the figures.

There were six new ‘Midway’ short stay attractions added to the portfolio in 2017, highlighted by the debut of the Little Big City concept on Berlin, the first Sea Life aquarium in China, in Chongqing; and the December opening of Madame Tussauds Delhi, the company’s first attraction in India. This lead to an organic Midway revenue growth of 1.3%.

The Resort Theme Parks division, which includes all non-Legoland parks, saw a decline of 0.4%, which Merlin says reflected adverse weather conditions in Europe, where all such properties are based.

Adding accommodation

A total of 383 rooms were added across the estate in 2017. These comprised an 80 room expansion of the holiday village in Legoland Billund, a new 166 room holiday village at Legoland Florida, a 61 room Castle Hotel at Legoland Windsor and the 76 room CBeebies Land Hotel at Alton Towers, both in the UK.

“A year that started well with positive momentum in almost every part of the group was ultimately defined by the unprecedented spate of terror attacks in the UK and poor to extreme weather throughout the summer season in Europe,” reports Merlin chief executive, Nick Varney. “Despite this, thanks to the efforts of our extraordinary team, we have reported overall growth in revenue, profit and cash flow, welcoming 66 million visitors – our highest on record. Merlin continues to evolve and, with attractive market fundamentals and the right strategy in place, we remain highly confident in the long term prospects for the business.”

New for 2018

Major new rides and attractions opening at Merlin facilities in 2018 include the Wicker Man wooden rollercoaster at Alton Towers, Lego City: Deep Sea Adventure at Legoland California, plus Peppa Pig Lands at Heide Park (Germany) and Gardaland (Italy). Nine new Midway outlets will open across the world, as well as the new attraction format Bear Grylls Adventure in Birmingham, England.