Merlin Entertainments Group Ltd is a British operator of amusement parks and other attractions. It is the largest such company in Europe, and globally the second largest after Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (in terms of attendance).
Headquartered in Poole, United Kingdom, Merlin Entertainments operates over seventy attractions in ten European countries, as well as the USA, China, Hong Kong and Australia. Its success has been underpinned by strong partnership arrangements with both public and private sectors, with organisations as diverse as Disney and the Worldwide Fund for Nature.
In 2010, the company's properties hosted an estimated 41 million guests, making it the second-most visited theme park operator in the world, behind only Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
In December 1998, Nick Varney, Andrew Carr and the senior management team of Vardon Attractions completed a management buyout of the company to form Merlin Entertainments Group Ltd. with the backing of the private equity firm Apax Partners. Apax sold the company to another financial investor, Hermes Private Equity, in 2003.
When the Legoland theme parks came up for sale, Varney wanted to buy it but Hermes did not want to invest more capital and sold Merlin to Blackstone Group for about £110 million. Blackstone negotiated to buy control of Legoland for about £250 million and then merged it with Merlin.
The company owns a grand total of 623 attractions. Merlin Entertainments and Tussauds together attracted 30 million visitors during 2007 and employ more than 13,000 staff.
After the Tussauds acquisition, Dubai International Capital held 20% of Merlin Entertainment.
The buyout of Tussauds was completed on 22 May 2007. The Tussauds Group as a separate entity has ceased to exist, with control of its attractions, including Madame Tussauds, The London Eye, Chessington World of Adventures, Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Heide Park among others, passing to Merlin.
On 17 July 2007, as part of the financing for the Tussauds deal, Merlin sold the freeholds of Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Warwick Castle and Madame Tussauds to private investor Nick Leslau and his investment firm Prestbury. Although the attractions are owned by Leslau, they continue to be operated by Merlin, leasing each back on a renewable 35-year lease. Chessington World of Adventures (the fifth Tussaud's attraction) was not included in the deal.
By arranging the sale-leaseback of the properties and giving Dubai International Capital a stake in the combined entity, Merlin was able to acquire Tussauds without the need for any further capital investments from Blackstone or its other shareholders.
As of 2007, negotiations reopened into the repurchase of Spain's PortAventura resort, which was built by Tussauds in 1994-5 and operated until 1998, when it was sold to Universal Studios. It has since been resold to Spanish banking group La Caixa.
On January 15, 2010, Merlin Entertainments bought closed Winter Haven, Florida-based theme park, Cypress Gardens (now Legoland Florida).
Merlin had planned to go public in early 2010, but market turbulence postponed those plans. Instead, Blackstone sold 20% of the company to the private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, reducing Blackstone's holding to 34%. CVC acquired another 8% from the Dubai investment fund, giving it 28% in all. KIRKBI, a Danish family trust that owns Lego, also increased its stake, emerging as the largest shareholder, with 36%. CVC paid a price that valued Merlin at £2.25 billion -- more than six times what Merlin and Legoland together were worth when Blackstone acquired them five years earlier. Blackstone's investment was by that point worth more than three and a half times what it had paid.
In late 2010, it was announced that Merlin would purchase approximately A$115 million worth of entertainment attractions located in Australia and New Zealand from Village Roadshow Theme Parks and Attractions. The sale would include Sydney Aquarium, Sydney Wildlife World, Oceanworld Manly, Sydney Tower and the Koala Gallery in Australia, in addition to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World in New Zealand. On 3 March 2011, the deal was finalised. This was followed by the $140 million acquisition of Living and Leisure Australia which owned several attractions in the Asia-Pacific region including UnderWater World, Melbourne Aquarium, Falls Creek, Hotham Alpine Resort, Otway Fly, Illawarra Fly, Busan Aquarium and Siam Ocean World. The attractions will eventually be refurbished to match Merlin Entertainments' brands.
On June 28, 2019, Merlin was returned to being a private company in a £6bn deal that saw it acquired by Lego creators KIRKBI, investment firm Blackstone and Canadian pension fund CPPIB.
- Chessington World of Adventures – Chessington, Surrey, England, UK
- Gardaland – Castelnuovo del Garda, Veneto, Italy
- Heide Park Resort – Soltau, Lower Saxony, Germany
- Thorpe Park – Chertsey, Surrey, England, UK
- Alton Towers – Alton, Staffordshire, England, UK
- Legoland Billund – Billund, Jylland, Denmark
- Legoland California – Carlsbad, California, USA
- Legoland Deutschland - Günzburg, Bavaria, Germany
- Legoland Dubai - Jebel Ali, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
- Legoland Florida – Winter Haven, Florida, USA
- Legoland Japan - Nagoya, Aichi, Japan
- Legoland Malaysia – Nusajaya, Johor, Malaysia
- Legoland New York - Goshen, New York, USA
- Legoland Windsor – Windsor, Berkshire, England, UK