Merlin Entertainments: Growing business in Southeast Asia

Poole, United Kingdom. Travel Daily News. April 10, 2012. (English). UK leisure group Merlin Entertainments Group, the world’s second largest visitor attraction operator in the world and the number one in Europe continues to set its sights on expanding in Asia- including Southeast Asia. In 2011, The group welcomed over 47.1 million visitors, up by 15.4% while revenues reached US$ 946 million, up by 18.1% for calendar year 2011. Profits reached last US$ 232 million, also up by 16.9%. For the ones still unfamiliar with Merlin Entertainments, the group is well known around the world through iconic entertainments brands such as Madame Tussauds, Legoland, SeaLife or Dungeons. The group also owns local attractions such as Warwick Castle in the UK or the Sydney Tower.

Meanwhile, Merlin Entertainments remain bullish about perspectives in Asia-Pacific. According to Nick Varney, the company’s CEO, Asia-Pacific currently represents about 12% of Merlin’s business but the region’s share could eventually grow to about a third. Its flagship in the region is Madame Tussauds which is already present in three Asian cities, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Bangkok, its most recent location opened in September 2010. Next on the agenda is another Madame Tussauds in Sydney. The new attraction is due to open its doors on Darling Harbour on April 16 with 70 figures on display. It will be the first Madame Tussauds in Australia. It will be followed in April 2013 by its largest branch to date at Decks Tokyo Beach Mall.

“We are extremely pleased in Bangkok with our results, which are very much in line with our financial and visitors’ expectations,” says Paul Williams, general manager of Madame Tussauds in Bangkok at the launch party following the presentation of Actor Robert Pattinson’s wax model. “We have naturally a high number of local visitors but we also see a high number of travellers from Indonesia, Taiwan and India in Bangkok”. Latest wax figures to have been installed at Madame Tussauds Bangkok reflect the variety of nationalities. Michelle Yeoh or Bollywood most famous actors such as Amitabh Bachchan are now part of the two-hundred wax models present in Bangkok. “We are looking to soon introduce Justin Bieber, Jay Chew and Indonesian leader Soekarno to the Bangkok audience,” says Paul Williams.

Will the group move into Indonesia – Southeast Asia’s most populated country- or to some other Asian countries? “We constantly look at new locations. India is very much high on our agenda and we continue to observe the market in Indonesia. We look at some 7 to 8 other locations in Asia for the time being. We will only move to destinations which qualify for criteria such as a critical mass of population, spending habits or tourism developments. It means that we mostly go to larger metropolitan areas for now”, adds Paul Williams.

Merlin Entertainments is also expanding by acquiring other companies. It recently took over Siam Ocean World, Southeast Asia’s largest aquarium following the acquisition of its previous owner, Australia-based Living and Leisure Australia Group. Merlin is looking to make a significant investment to improve the aquarium and the local team, along with Merlin’s global marine experts, will be working on these plans in coming months. “It is a great asset for us to have both Siam Ocean and Madame Tussauds at the same location. We are now launching joint tickets for both attractions. To celebrate our new venture together, we even provide for a limited time a super value package offering entry to both attractions at 20% discount” adds Mr. Williams.

Another big event will be the opening of Legoland Malaysia next December in Johor Bahru, across the border to Singapore. The US$ 240 million theme park will stretch over 31 hectare of land and will be home to 40 rides divided into seven themed areas. Would it then be possible to further create packages including the three theme parks? “ It might be difficult to do so as the three attractions are far away from each other. However, we now think of an annual pass to our Asian attractions in the same way that we already do with our existing Annual Pass in the UK, USA and Germany,” adds Paul Williams.

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