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UK Merlin park attendance through the years

Matt N

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Note: I intend to keep editing this post as time goes on and more years are released.

Hi guys. During the coaster consultations in 2021, Merlin released an attendance graph showing all their parks' attendance figures since the early 1980s. I had some time on my hands yesterday evening and decided to try and extrapolate some slightly more precise guest figures for each park from this graph to try and determine the precise(ish) attendance trajectory of each UK Merlin park from the earliest year listed here (1984 for Alton Towers and Chessington, 1983 for Thorpe Park, 1987 for Windsor Safari Park and 1997 for Legoland Windsor).


For some idea, this is the original graph I was working with: https://www.cwoa-consultation.com/proposals?lightbox=dataItem-komw1163


To make things easier for myself, I divided each million on the graph into 8 rows (thus leaving ~125,000 guests per row, as my rather crude MS Paint annotation indicates):



As such, I then decided to extrapolate a precise(ish) figure from the graph by looking at what row each park's figure fell within. All of these figures are rounded to the nearest 31,250; I know that sounds oddly specific, but it's 1/32 of a million, and a quarter of one of these rows, so it's the most precise figure that remains easy to determine by eye. It also keeps the margin of error to only 1 or 2 percent in most cases.


The precise(ish) trajectories that I managed to extrapolate for each park, including percentage increases and decreases for each year, were as follows:

Alton Towers - opened 1980, first year on graph 1984

  • 1984: 1,843,750 (first year, #1/3 on graph)
  • 1985: 1,812,500 (-1.7%, #1/3 on graph)
  • 1986: 2,250,000 (+24.1%, #1/3 on graph)
  • 1987: 2,312,500 (+2.8%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 1988: 2,875,000 (+24.3%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 1989: 2,437,500 (-15.2%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 1990: 1,937,500 (-20.5%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 1991: 1,843,750 (-3.6%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 1992: 2,625,000 (+42.4%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 1993: 2,843,750 (+8.3%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 1994: 3,312,500 (+16.5%, #1/3 on graph)
  • 1995: 2,843,750 (-14.2%, #1/3 on graph)
  • 1996: 2,875,000 (+1.1%, #1/3 on graph)
  • 1997: 2,875,000 (0.0%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 1998: 2,875,000 (0.0%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 1999: 2,593,750 (-9.8%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2000: 2,437,500 (-6.0%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2001: 2,187,500 (-10.3%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2002: 2,656,250 (+21.4%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2003: 2,562,500 (-4.7%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2004: 2,086,750 (-18.6%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2005: 2,187,500 (+4.8%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2006: 2,218,750 (+1.4%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2007: 2,250,000 (+1.4%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2008: 2,593,750 (+15.3%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2009: 2,656,250 (+2.4%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2010: 3,062,500 (+14.0%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2011: 2,687,500 (-12.2%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2012: 2,406,250 (-10.5%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2013: 2,593,750 (+7.8%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2014: 2,312,500 (-10.8%, joint #2/4 on graph)
  • 2015: 1,968,750 (-14.9%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2016: 1,750,000 (-9.7%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2017: 1,875,000 (+7.1%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2018: 2,187,500 (+16.7%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2019: 2,500,000 (+14.3%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2020: 968,750 (-61.3%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2021: 2,343,750 (+141.9%, #1/4 on graph)

All-Time Peak: 3,312,500 (1994)

All-Time Low (excluding 2020): 1,750,000 (2016)

Peak Within Merlin Era (2008 and later): 3,062,500 (2010)

Low Within Merlin Era (2008 and later, excluding 2020 and 2021): 1,750,000 (2016)


Chessington/Chessington Zoo - opened 1931, first year on graph 1984, first year as CWOA 1987

  • 1984: 625,000 (first year, #3/3 on graph)
  • 1985: 562,500 (-10.0%, #3/3 on graph)
  • 1986: 500,000 (-11.1%, #3/3 on graph)
  • 1987: 875,000 (+75.0%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 1988: 1,187,500 (+35.7%, joint #3/4 on graph)
  • 1989: 1,250,000 (+5.3%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 1990: 1,062,500 (-15.0%, joint #3/4 on graph)
  • 1991: 1,437,500 (+35.3%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 1992: 1,218,750 (-15.2%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 1993: 1,531,250 (+25.6%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 1994: 1,687,500 (+10.2%, #2/3 on graph)
  • 1995: 1,875,000 (+11.1%, #2/3 on graph)
  • 1996: 1,812,500 (-3.3%, #2/3 on graph)
  • 1997: 1,843,750 (+1.7%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 1998: 1,843,750 (0.0%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 1999: 1,656,250 (-10.2%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2000: 1,562,500 (-5.7%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2001: 1,531,250 (-2.0%, joint #3/4 on graph)
  • 2002: 1,281,250 (-16.3%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2003: 1,312,500 (+2.4%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2004: 1,218,750 (-7.1%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2005: 1,093,750 (-10.3%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2006: 1,031,250 (-5.7%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2007: 968,750 (-6.1%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2008: 1,250,000 (+29.0%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2009: 1,343,750 (+7.5%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2010: 1,437,500 (+7.0%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2011: 1,500,000 (+4.3%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2012: 1,406,250 (-6.2%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2013: 1,531,250 (+8.9%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2014: 1,562,500 (+2.0%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2015: 1,437,500 (-8.0%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2016: 1,437,500 (0.0%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2017: 1,500,000 (+4.3%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2018: 1,593,750 (+6.3%, joint #4/4 on graph)
  • 2019: 1,656,250 (+3.9%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2020: 500,000 (-69.8%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2021: 1,281,250 (+156.3%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2022: 1,468,750 (+14.6%, N/A)

All-Time Peak: 1,875,000 (1995)

All-Time Low (excluding 2020 and 2021, including pre-CWOA years): 500,000 (1986)

All-Time Low (excluding 2020 and 2021 and pre-CWOA years): 875,000 (1987)

Peak Within Merlin Era (2008 and later): 1,687,500 (2019)

Low Within Merlin Era (2008 and later, excluding 2020 and 2021): 1,281,250 (2008)


Legoland Windsor/Windsor Safari Park - opened 1970, first year on graph 1987, first year as Legoland Windsor 1996

  • 1987: 812,500 (first year, #4/4 on graph)
  • 1988: 875,000 (+7.7%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 1989: 968,750 (+10.7%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 1990: 1,062,500 (+9.7%, joint #3/4 on graph)
  • 1991: 1,031,250 (-2.9%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 1992: 968,750 (-6.1%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 1993: 937,500 (-3.2%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 1994: N/A (-100.0%, N/A on graph)
  • 1995: N/A (0.0%, N/A on graph)
  • 1996: N/A (0.0%, N/A on graph)
  • 1997: 1,468,750 (first year as LLW, #3/4 on graph)
  • 1998: 1,312,500 (-10.6%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 1999: 1,500,000 (+14.3%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2000: 1,687,500 (+12.5%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2001: 1,531,250 (-9.3%, joint #3/4 on graph)
  • 2002: 1,593,750 (+4.1%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2003: 1,437,500 (-9.8%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2004: 1,437,500 (0.0%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2005: 1,500,000 (+4.3%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2006: 1,625,000 (+8.3%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2007: 1,500,000 (-7.8%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2008: 1,875,000 (+25.0%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2009: 1,906,250 (+1.7%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2010: 1,906,250 (0.0%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2011: 1,906,250 (0.0%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2012: 2,031,250 (+6.6%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2013: 2,312,500 (+13.8%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2014: 2,312,500 (0.0%, joint #2/4 on graph)
  • 2015: 2,343,750 (+1.4%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2016: 2,187,500 (-6.6%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2017: 2,312,500 (+5.7%, #1/4 on graph)
  • 2018: 2,125,000 (-8.1%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2019: 2,062,500 (-2.9%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2020: 687,500 (-66.7%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2021: 1,562,500 (+122.7%, #2/4 on graph)

All-Time Peak: 2,343,750 (2015)

All-Time Low (excluding 2020 and 2021, including pre-LLW years): 812,500 (1987)

All-Time Low (excluding 2020, 2021 and pre-LLW years): 1,312,500 (1998)

Peak Within Merlin Era (2006 and later): 2,343,750 (2015)

Low Within Merlin Era (2006 and later, excluding 2020 and 2021): 1,500,000 (2007)


Thorpe Park - opened 1979, first year on graph 1983

  • 1983: 843,750 (first year, #1/1 on graph)
  • 1984: 1,031,250 (+22.2%, #2/3 on graph)
  • 1985: 1,093,750 (+6.1%, #2/3 on graph)
  • 1986: 1,093,750 (0.0%, #2/3 on graph)
  • 1987: 1,093,750 (0.0%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 1988: 1,187,500 (+8.6%, joint #3/4 on graph)
  • 1989: 1,343,750 (+13.2%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 1990: 1,000,000 (-25.6%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 1991: 968,750 (-3.1%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 1992: 1,093,750 (+12.9%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 1993: 1,281,250 (+17.1%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 1994: 1,218,750 (-4.9%, #3/3 on graph)
  • 1995: 1,125,000 (-7.7%, #3/3 on graph)
  • 1996: 1,187,500 (+5.6%, #3/3 on graph)
  • 1997: 968,750 (-18.4%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 1998: 875,000 (-9.7%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 1999: 906,250 (+3.6%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2000: 937,500 (+3.4%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2001: 1,187,500 (+26.7%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2002: 1,437,500 (+21.1%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2003: 1,531,250 (+6.5%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2004: 1,468,750 (-4.1%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2005: 1,562,500 (+6.4%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2006: 1,812,500 (+16.0%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2007: 1,843,750 (+1.7%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2008: 1,843,750 (0.0%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2009: 2,125,000 (+15.3%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2010: 2,187,500 (+2.9%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2011: 2,125,000 (-2.9%, #2/4 on graph)
  • 2012: 1,843,750 (-13.2%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2013: 1,786,250 (-3.1%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2014: 1,843,750 (+3.2%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2015: 1,531,250 (-17.0%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2016: 1,625,000 (+6.1%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2017: 1,562,500 (-3.9%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2018: 1,593,750 (+2.0%, joint #4/4 on graph)
  • 2019: 1,500,000 (-5.9%, #4/4 on graph)
  • 2020: 562,500 (-62.5%, #3/4 on graph)
  • 2021: 1,218,750 (+116.7%, #4/4 on graph)

All-Time Peak: 2,187,500 (2010)

All-Time Low (excluding 2020 and 2021): 843,750 (1983)

Peak Within Merlin Era (2008 and later): 2,187,500 (2010)

Low Within Merlin Era (2008 and later, excluding 2020 and 2021): 1,500,000 (2019)


To sum up each park's trajectory:

  • Alton Towers may have been top dog for the bulk of the years since 1984, but it has also had the most volatile guest figures. It has had peaks as high as 3.3 million in 1994, but also troughs of only slightly above 2 million in the mid-2000s or even slightly below in the early 1990s and mid-2010s, with a nadir of 1.75 million being reached in 2016. At that point, it was well away from #1 and almost rubbing shoulder to shoulder with #3 park Thorpe. Interestingly, its peak was early, in 1994, and only 2010 has ever come close to that since. Merlin have attained fair growth at Alton Towers; between 2007 and 2019, attendance grew by 11.1%.
  • Chessington started off fairly well, attaining steady growth from 1987 up until 1994, where it stayed at its peak until about 1997. However, attendance dropped through the floor from 1998 onwards, hitting a low of under 1 million in 2007, so it's fair to say that Chessington's trajectory has been far from uniform, although things improved notably under Merlin. Interestingly, Chessington is the park that has thrived most under Merlin, with attendance having grown by 74.1% between 2007 and 2019. Nonetheless, the high water mark was hit quite early on at Chessington, with that near 2 million peak guest figure being all the way back in 1995, and no year post-1997 has yet come close to it.
  • Legoland Windsor has had the most consistent growth trajectory of all the parks. With its low back near opening in 1998, its peak in 2015 and no particularly catastrophic attendance drops (COVID aside), it's grown fairly consistently over the years. It's also a park that has thrived pretty well under Merlin; between 2005 and 2019, attendance grew by 37.5%.
  • Thorpe Park has had a bit of a roller coaster of a growth trajectory. The 80s and 90s were a little bit choppy at Thorpe Park, with peaks of close to 1.5 million and lows of under 1 million. The park really hit its stride from 2001 onwards, maintaining a near perfect growth trajectory right up to the park's 2.2 million peak in 2010. However, things have been a bit of a struggle since then, with guest figures having almost consistently declined since 2011 right back to a low of 1.5 million in 2019. The park has comparatively struggled under Merlin, with attendance having fallen by 18.6% between 2007 and 2019.

I hope you find this interesting! If you don't agree with something I've done or notice any errors, however, don't be afraid to flag them to me.

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I've always loved that graph. It puts a lot of things into perspective. Nemesis just was the ride that completely changed Towers. Look at that massive jump in attendance, something Towers has never managed to reach since. Wicker Man did a lot of good in recovering attendance after the Smiler crash.


Rameses at Chessington was such a hit back in '95 and it remained quite consistent up until Samurai. But the lack of investment and rubbish kids rides really didn't do much especially when big rides weren't forthcoming. The shoddy way Dragons Fury was marketed as well didn't help.


Thorpe doesn't surprise me, the massive investments in the 00's was always going to be a problem when it stopped. The new ride doesn't fill me with confidence that they can reverse the decline. It's a plaster to a much bigger issue.

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3 hours ago, Mark9 said:

I've always loved that graph. It puts a lot of things into perspective. Nemesis just was the ride that completely changed Towers. Look at that massive jump in attendance, something Towers has never managed to reach since. Wicker Man did a lot of good in recovering attendance after the Smiler crash.


Rameses at Chessington was such a hit back in '95 and it remained quite consistent up until Samurai. But the lack of investment and rubbish kids rides really didn't do much especially when big rides weren't forthcoming. The shoddy way Dragons Fury was marketed as well didn't help.


Thorpe doesn't surprise me, the massive investments in the 00's was always going to be a problem when it stopped. The new ride doesn't fill me with confidence that they can reverse the decline. It's a plaster to a much bigger issue.

The interesting thing I noticed about Nemesis’ opening year is that the park was unable to sustain those guest figures into 1995. Chessington, Thorpe and Legoland all managed to sustain their peak figures for a good few years after they were initially attained, but the peak stimulated by Nemesis was literally a one year only event; seeing as 1995’s guest figure was exactly the same as 1993’s, it’s fair to say that Towers was literally back to square one in Nemesis’ second year, and that any attendance growth it stimulated was short lived. The peak generated by Thirteen (the only other time the park has ever exceeded 3 million guests) was eerily similar; attendance shot very high for the ride’s opening year, but these gains were entirely wiped out by 2011, with 2011’s attendance figures being exactly the same as 2009’s…


Out of interest, what do you feel that Thorpe’s “bigger issue” is? And why do you not think that Exodus will solve it?

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1 hour ago, RobF said:

Thorpe needs something, but what is it? 

it has a good rides selection for teens which is also a poor target audience, that directly causes other issues.


presentation/maintenance/vibe etc


there isn't an easy fix to make the park bounce back.

One thing I would say is that I don't think thrills necessarily only appeal to teens and young adults. Thorpe may have a big selection of thrill rides and quite a heavy focus on the thrill market, but I don't think that's necessarily the architect of the park's recent struggles. A look at my data suggests that the extremely thrill-focused 2000s were very successful indeed, and the park actually rode that wave of success right up until 2011; they experienced sustained growth for the best part of 10 years under a thrill heavy strategy. Park attendance grew by 133.3% in the decade between 2000 and 2010, and the park's growth trajectory was a near perfect upward curve for this entire time.


I don't think thrills and teens necessarily go hand in hand perfectly. Appealing to the teenage and young adult market doesn't necessarily mean appealing to thrillseekers and vice versa; the thrill market encapsulates a surprisingly wide range of people. It includes people like older families and adults as well as teenagers and young adults. Appealing to the teenage/young adult market can also be done in ways aside from building thrill rides.


I'd wager that Thorpe's issue is one of recent investments and target market rather than ride lineup, in two senses.


The first sense is that the park in recent years (under Merlin) has tried to go for too much of a niche part of the thrill market, in my opinion. The bulk of the park's additions within the last decade have not been traditional thrill rides, such as coasters and thrill flats; the only investment that would fit either descriptor is Swarm, which only narrowly makes it into the last decade having been built 10 years ago in 2012. Many of the park's recent attempts at thrill have not been "traditional" thrill rides with wide appeal; the bulk of Thorpe's recent thrill investments have been very "edgy", scare based, horror themed attractions with quite niche appeal. In my view, something like DBGT is aimed at a very specific, niche corner of the thrill market and will have far less universal appeal than something like a roller coaster. Ditto with the likes of Walking Dead; the IP is undeniably popular, but an attraction in the style of TWD:TR will appeal to a much smaller subset of thrillseekers (only teens and young adults, really). These investments undeniably appeal to the teen and young adult market very well, but attractions like these don't really open themselves up to the other (arguably more lucrative) corners of the thrill market, such as older families and adults.


The second, and arguably more important sense in my view, is that the park seems to have struggled to target towards anyone in recent years. From Swarm onwards, and particularly strongly in the years following DBGT, the park has given off the impression that it has been somewhat paralysed by indecision about who its target market actually is. It seems to have been a fun family park one minute, but a hardcore horror park the next minute, and then a fresh-faced thrill park focused on coasters the next minute after that. The park arguably hasn't made an overly committal move towards appealing in any particular direction since DBGT back in 2016, and any attempts at appealing to one particular market have not been very sustained. In 2014 and 2015, the park went pretty family-based... before going hardcore horror in 2016 and 2017. The park rethemed X to appeal to families in 2013... before retheming it to appeal to hardcore horror fans, arguably reversing the effects of their prior move and then some, in 2018. The park started 2018 off by saying it was "The Year of the Walking Dead" and appealing to hardcore horror fans... before changing tack mid season and going for a more light hearted vibe with all the Love Island stuff to appeal primarily to teens and young adults. 2019 and 2020 were then relatively family-based... but the park went back to horror with Black Mirror in 2021. I get that it is difficult for Thorpe to pick a target market (I'm terribly indecisive myself...), I get that the park has had many different managers with different ideas in recent years, and I do understand that a public business with shareholders will likely find it difficult to have an overly long term view, but my view is that Thorpe would be a fair amount more successful if they took one particular path, properly ran with it, and made some properly decisive moves towards cementing the park as a destination for that particular target market. I think Exodus could well solve this issue (a 230ft hyper is certainly a pretty decisive move towards appealing to the wide subset of the thrill market who like roller coasters), but it does appear that recently, particular paths taken by the park haven't really been given enough time to succeed before the park moves on, and the moves towards these paths haven't been overly committal. The park in recent years has seemed somewhat "on the fence" about who its target demographic actually is, and quite uncommitted towards any particular path. I feel that if the park were to take one path and properly commit to it, they would be a fair bit more successful.


Those are just my thoughts, though. I could be very wrong.


I apologise, as I know I probably shouldn't question their decision making given that they have the KPIs and charts and things to back up their decisions and I don't. I also know that I'm being a massive hypocrite talking about indecision seeing as I'm pretty indecisive myself... so I should probably stop there seeing as hypocrisy is not a hill I wish to die on. I fully understand how difficult it can be to make a decision and stick to it sometimes.

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I can only speak from where I stand on it. Massive investment in 2000's is one thing but for that target market (thrill seekers, up for it families), that investment can't just stop. it has to keep going. The park also has to continually re-invest in the older rides to keep everything fresh. Colossus and Inferno in particular are not new rollercoasters anymore and look their age. That isn't acceptable anymore.


Thorpe is also obsessed with walk throughs, horror mazes and psychological experiences. None of these are reasons to visit a place, they compliment existing attractions. Somewhere in a board room, the Thorpe execs thought Black Mirror was a revolution but it isn't. 


Family rides are an issue at Thorpe because they are either over 25 years old at this point or aren't main events. There's absolutely no reason why a family ride could fit the bill in the park but they don't ever pursue it. X was a great example of a short sighted decision.


I'm not convinced by Exodus, it's just another thrilling rollercoaster in a park that relies heavily on them already. It will have an amazing first year and then what. How can they sustain it? It's not going to convince anyone that wouldn't already go there for the thrill rides. it's why I think a B&M hyper is a better option, that ride is the ultimate crowd pleaser and has near 25 years of success already.


Back in the 00's there was a balance, even if slightly skewed. Things like Eclipse, Flying Fish's refurbishment, Quantum and Tidal Wave appeal far more to a wider range of people. I mention Tidal Wave because even though themed to a catastrophe, it has a fun, cheeky theme to sell it. All of this is just my view and I'm glad I'm not in charge because I don't really know how to rescue Thorpe from its lull.

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Moving forwards in my view, 

it needs a 8 Million spent just tarting up attraction’s cosmetically, and Colossus new trains.


Itneeds to continue to invest in thrills but also needs to re introduce theme park staple attractions that are suitable for the whole family, 


Something similar to Wicked witches haunt re-imagined, a decent family area. I am probably in terms of GP among a large proportion of perspective customers who have younger children, and quite simply haven't been to thorpe in 2-3 years (other than for the beach this summer) for the simple fact its not fair on the kids they have 3 rides suitable for my eldest. And absolutely nothing for my youngest.


I get it’s a Thrill Park, but to have a family day out we need to cater for whole families to have a good day aswell.


I will use Adventure Island as a perfect example it’s primarily a thrill park on the Coast, but it caters for everyone and does it well. 


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Personally, I think thorpe shouldn't try to appeal to young families, especially not in the half hearted fashion of adding a playground, realistically why would you go there when you have the likes of chessington, legoland and paultons as alternatives with a lot more available for kids? It just leads to a day of saying 'sorry you aren't tall enough for that ride'. Frankly there isn't enough space to make it a park that appeals to literally everyone and I think that would be a waste of time and effort. 


I think there is nothing wrong with thorpe focusing on families with older kids, teenagers, adults etc. There is a market for that, but having said that they are harder to impress and with the lack of any decent additions over the past 9 years I'm not surprised by the attendance figures. Agree with above- black mirror and derren brown were way too niche to appeal to the majority of adults/teens and wouldn't be enough to draw someone to the park that wouldn't have been going annually anyway. 

I think exodus with the right advertising will bring people to the park, and hopefully will have results that demonstrate to management that the park should focus on these sorts of things that will appeal to its main audience- adults, older families and teenagers.


On chessington- I'd be interested to see how these figures compare to paultons, having been to both I think a day at paultons is much more pleasant, much shorter queues, and plenty of rides for kids of all ages, so without hesitation I'd recommend to families with kids <10, I just wonder why chessington struggles so much more with queues. 

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2 hours ago, jessica2 said:

On chessington- I'd be interested to see how these figures compare to paultons, having been to both I think a day at paultons is much more pleasant, much shorter queues, and plenty of rides for kids of all ages, so without hesitation I'd recommend to families with kids <10, I just wonder why chessington struggles so much more with queues. 

I struggle to find figures for Paultons, but most seem to suggest around the 1 million mark (I think I read 1.1 million somewhere, but don’t quote me on that one).


I think Chessington’s capacity struggles are compounded by a combination of the fact that it’s on the MAP (I seem to remember hearing that Chessington is considered one of Merlin’s most valuable assets due to how many MAP visits it attracts) and the fact that it’s in London with a huge population on its doorstep.


The graph suggests that figures spiked fairly significantly in 2008 in spite of no especially significant investment that year, which I think could have been at least partially caused by the conception of the MAP.


By comparison, Paultons is more remote in location and doesn’t have a similarly lucrative annual pass product to boost its figures. Based on my own experience there, I’d also wager that a notable percentage of its visitors spend their time mainly in Peppa Pig World, which could help the queues stay low in the rest of the park.

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Really interesting - thank you for posting this!


The very obvious and self-inflicted rise and fall of Thorpe Park, and the reputation damage following the Smiler crash are the standouts for me.


Its also mad how erratic Alton Towers’ attendance has been over the years compared to the others.


I echo what’s been said above - this is evidence that the public want to come and see new coasters and rides - NOT walkthroughs and stupid gimmicks. Semi-regular ride additions appear to increase attendance according to this graph.

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Disclaimer: This post is quite long; I apologise in advance!

If any of you are interested, I decided to play with the attendance data a little more this evening and answer a couple of questions!


For starters, I'd like to apologise sincerely, because I only just realised that I messed up a couple of the numbers so that they were off by about 20,000... sorry about that. I've corrected the incorrect readings now.


The first thing I decided to ask was...

How would the parks be ranked in terms of average all time attendance?

To answer this question, I applied the statistical measures of mean, median and mode to each theme park's attendance.


The first statistical measure I used was the mean. The mean is a calculated average, which I worked out by adding all of the attendance figures together and dividing them by the number of years each park had listed in the graph. When ranked by mean attendance, the parks stacked up as follows:

  1. Alton Towers - 2,429,688 (excluding 2020), 2,389,358 (including 2020)
  2. Legoland Windsor - 1,820,652 (excluding 2020), 1,772,135 (including 2020)
  3. Chessington - 1,425,189 (excluding 2020), 1,397,978 (including 2020)
  4. Thorpe Park - 1,396,250 (excluding 2020), 1,372,664 (including 2020)

I must admit I was surprised at this... I wasn't surprised at the placements of AT and LLW, but for some reason, I was expecting Thorpe to be above Chessington... I guess its #4 placement makes sense from looking at the graph, but I must admit that it still surprised me.


The placements were much the same when I used median (the middle value):

  1. Alton Towers - 2,437,500 (excluding and including 2020)
  2. Legoland Windsor - 1,875,000 (excluding 2020), 1,781,250 (including 2020)
  3. Chessington - 1,437,500 (excluding and including 2020)
  4. Thorpe Park - 1,343,750 (excluding 2020), 1,312,500 (including 2020)

The mode (most common value) for each park was pretty different from the mean and median (which suggests clusters of higher and lower values rather than a fully normal distribution), but the rankings remained roughly the same:

  1. Alton Towers - 2,875,000 (excluding and including 2020)
  2. Legoland Windsor - 1,500,000 (excluding and including 2020)
  3. Chessington - 1,437,500 (excluding and including 2020)
  4. Thorpe Park - 1,093,750 (excluding and including 2020)

So all in all, I think we can conclude that interestingly, the parks' average attendances of all time align pretty nicely with the 2019 attendance ranking, with the parks being ranked as follows under all of the statistical measures:

  1. Alton Towers
  2. Legoland Windsor
  3. Chessington
  4. Thorpe Park

The second question I asked was...

Have any of the parks had anomalous years, or outliers, in their history?

To answer this question, I decided to calculate the standard deviation, which is a statistical measure that tells you how much variation there is in your dataset.


I hear you asking "well, how is the standard deviation relevant to outliers?". Well, standard deviation is relevant because the definition of an outlier is any reading that is more than 2 standard deviations away from the mean on either side. With that in mind, I calculated the standard deviation of each park's attendance, and used that to work out the "normal" range of each park's attendance (the range of figures that falls within 2SD of the mean; if the attendance data followed a perfect bell curve/normal distribution, approximately 97.5% of the data would fall within 2SD of the mean). Any figures that fell outside this range were deemed to be outliers, or anomalous years.


Here's how each park fared in this regard...

Alton Towers

Excluding 2020

Mean All Time Attendance: 2,429,688

Standard Deviation: 392,762

Upper Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 3,215,212

Lower Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 1,644,163

Outliers: 1 (3,312,500 attained in 1994)


Including 2020

Mean All Time Attendance: 2,389,358

Standard Deviation: 458,428

Upper Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 3,306,214

Lower Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 1,472,503

Outliers: 2 (3,312,500 attained in 1994 and 937,500 attained in 2020)



Excluding 2020

Mean All Time Attendance: 1,425,189

Standard Deviation: 259,927

Upper Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 1,945,044

Lower Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 905,335

Outliers: 1 (875,000 attained in 1987)


Including 2020

Mean All Time Attendance: 1,397,978

Standard Deviation: 301,149

Upper Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 2,000,276

Lower Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 795,680

Outliers: 1 (500,000 attained in 2020)


Legoland Windsor

Excluding 2020

Mean All Time Attendance: 1,820,652

Standard Deviation: 339,098

Upper Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 2,498,898

Lower Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 1,142,457

Outliers: 0


Including 2020

Mean All Time Attendance: 1,772,135

Standard Deviation: 408,021

Upper Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 2,588,157

Lower Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 956,094

Outliers: 1 (656,250 attained in 2020)


Thorpe Park

Excluding 2020

Mean All Time Attendance: 1,396,250

Standard Deviation: 384,292

Upper Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 2,164,833

Lower Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 627,667

Outliers: 1 (2,187,500 attained in 2010)


Including 2020

Mean All Time Attendance: 1,372,664

Standard Deviation: 405,989

Upper Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 2,184,643

Lower Bound of "Normal" Attendance Range: 560,686

Outliers: 2 (2,187,500 attained in 2010 and 500,000 attained in 2020)


It's really interesting to me to see that every single park has had at least one outlier at some point in its history! I knew that every park would have had 2020 as a giant outlier (that one needs no explanation, really...), but surprisingly, every park apart from Legoland had an anomalous year even prior to COVID. In Chessington's case, it was the park's all time low in 1987, while in the case of Alton and Thorpe, it was actually their all time peaks, in 1994 and 2010 respectively, that were outliers compared to the parks' other years attendance-wise.


You're probably wondering how outliers are actually relevant to theme park attendance. In fairness, they're not as relevant to theme park attendance as they would be in, say, a science experiment, but I think they're still important to consider, even though we are talking about theme park attendance rather than the growth of germ cultures in a petri dish or whatever.


In statistical terms, outliers are usually excluded from calculations such as averages and predictive analytics models. They are readings that are said to have a low chance of repeatability under normal circumstances, so my data suggests that the parks' anomalous years (both peaks and troughs) have produced attendance figures that there's a fair chance of the parks never hitting again, under normal circumstances at least. And when you look at the circumstances surrounding the parks' respective anomalous years, that would make some sense; the widespread anomalous low of 2020 was likely caused by COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns and social distancing (which certainly couldn't be referred to as "normal circumstances"), the anomalous Chessington low of 1987 was likely caused by it being the park's opening year and it only having half a season (which is unlikely to be repeated... the park will never have an opening year again, and a half-season is unlikely to be repeated under normal circumstances), and the anomalous Alton Towers and Thorpe Park highs were both likely caused by the opening years of freakishly successful major ride installations (I know Thorpe's was 2010 rather than 2009, but 2009 and 2011's figures were on the cusp of being outliers themselves, and 2009's massive increase was almost definitely stimulated by Saw), which likely wouldn't be considered "normal" circumstances.


I know that theme park attendance is a touch too nuanced for outliers to be set in stone, but I still think it's an interesting point to consider.


Another question I asked was...

Which parks have the most volatile attendance?

In order to answer this question, I once again employed our good friend standard deviation to measure the variability of each park's attendance.


In terms of standard deviation, the parks were ranked as follows:

Excluding 2020

  1. Alton Towers - 392,762
  2. Thorpe Park - 384,292
  3. Legoland Windsor - 339,098
  4. Chessington - 259,927

Including 2020

  1. Alton Towers - 458,428
  2. Legoland Windsor - 408,021
  3. Thorpe Park - 405,989
  4. Chessington - 301,149

So in terms of pure numbers, Alton Towers has the most variable attendance and Chessington has the least variable attendance. However, one key piece of the puzzle that pure numbers on their own don't take into account is the mean that the SD varies from in the first place; if the mean is larger, the SD will often be larger by default. To counter this, let's instead rank the parks by their standard deviation as a percentage of their mean attendance...

Excluding 2020

  1. Thorpe Park - 27.5%
  2. Legoland Windsor - 18.6%
  3. Chessington - 18.2%
  4. Alton Towers - 16.2%

Including 2020

  1. Thorpe Park - 29.6%
  2. Legoland Windsor - 23.0%
  3. Chessington - 21.5%
  4. Alton Towers - 19.2%

Interestingly, Thorpe Park actually has the most volatile attendance of the Merlin parks when SD is measured as a percentage of mean attendance; its standard deviation is surprisingly high given that its mean attendance is comfortably the smallest of the 4 parks.


This really puts into perspective how much higher the late 2000s and early 2010s were for attendance at Thorpe Park than any other point in its history, as well as how different Thorpe's growth trajectory has been to that of the other 3 parks. In spite of Thorpe having the most years on the graph, it only had one proper peak that it attained fairly late in its life. The park mostly ticked along at a fairly low attendance in its early years, peaking not much above the 1 million mark (quite often a bit below it, in fact; the park had numerous years of 900k or so, and its low is a little below 850k) for 20 years. The 1.5 million threshold was not breached until 2003, 20 years into Thorpe Park's time on the graph, and the peak of 2.1-2.2 million was only ever hit during the 2009-2011 period, with no year before or since coming even remotely close to it.


By comparison, Alton and Chessington both appear to have managed roughly 2 big growth cycles (or perhaps 1.5 in Chessington's case, as a trough never began in the 2nd one before COVID), and they've maintained a fairly high relative attendance throughout their lives on the graph (since 1984 in Alton's case and since 1987 in Chessington's case). Legoland never really had a trough, with that park having managed a fairly consistent, steady upward trajectory since appearing on the graph in 1997.


On a side note, I guess this also proves why you can't really rely on pure numbers on their own; Alton Towers had the highest actual number as its SD, but this was likely caused by its mean attendance being a solid peg higher than that of the other 3 parks, as its SD actually equated to the lowest percentage of mean attendance out of the 4.


The final question I asked was...

Which park fills to capacity the most?

Now I know that this one is based upon slightly more spurious reasoning, but I did think that this could be one question where the 2020 data might come in handy. I thought that the 2020 attendances might provide an interesting insight into this because in 2020, the parks were all open for the same amount of time, and all of them had heavily capped attendance, so hit capacity most of the time.


The way I thought I'd answer this question was by ranking the parks by how much lower their 2020 attendance was than their 2019 attendance (the percentage decrease). The park with the highest percentage decrease should, in theory, be the one that fills to capacity the most.


In terms of percentage decrease, the parks' 2020 attendances were ranked as follows:

  1. Chessington - -70.4% (500,000 vs 1,687,500)
  2. Legoland Windsor - -68.2% (656,250 vs 2,062,500)
  3. Thorpe Park - -66.7% (500,000 vs 1,500,000)
  4. Alton Towers - -62.5% (937,500 vs 2,500,000)

So from this, it can be ascertained that Chessington hits capacity the most and pushes the limits of its capacity the most on a typical day, while Alton Towers hits capacity the least by quite some margin. This would make sense given Chessington's well documented capacity struggles, and the fact that I can count on one hand the number of times I've ever known Alton Towers hit capacity.


The 2020 figures would also imply that Alton Towers has the highest capacity of any of the UK Merlin parks by quite some margin; its 2020 figure was close to 1 million, while the others were more like 500,000 (Chessington and Thorpe were joint lowest at bang on 500k, while Legoland was a little higher and edged closer to 600-700k).


One final thing I should reveal is that I have condensed all of this data into a Google Sheet, which has each park's data and statistics listed alongside a labelled line graph showing all of them together for visual perspective:



If you're wondering why every park in the spreadsheet starts from 1983, with the ones that start later than 1983 having 0 listed as their attendance for the early years, this was because the graph didn't seem to like it when I tried to start each park from the year it actually started on Merlin's graph... it got very mixed up, so I just decided to have 1983 as a uniform starting point for all of them and put 0 for any years before the park actually appears on the graph. That's why every park apart from Thorpe has a massive surge from the bottom towards the left of the graph... that's simply that park "entering" the graph, if you like.


I hope you find this interesting! If you find any errors in my calculations, do tell me (I apologise once again for the earlier mess-up of a few of the figures...), and also tell me if you'd like me to ask any more questions about this dataset!

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  • 1 month later...

I'm back again! A new Merlin consultation can only mean one thing... a new version of the attendance graph updated with 2021 attendance! Here is the new graph for your viewing pleasure:


I've had a play about with the new graph, and I've managed to extrapolate some figures!


I should firstly note that I have restated a few of the previous figures following closer examination of this new graph. I apologise for my earlier error; the mistakes have been rectified in my opening post.


The most notable thing I discovered are the 2021 figures for each Merlin park, as well as some seemingly altered 2020 figures and the 2022 figure for Chessington.

Final 2020 Figures

  1. Alton Towers - 968,750 (-61.3%)
  2. Legoland Windsor - 687,500 (-66.7%)
  3. Thorpe Park - 562,500 (-62.5%)
  4. Chessington - 500,000 (-69.8%)

2021 Figures

  1. Alton Towers - 2,343,750 (+141.9%)
  2. Legoland Windsor - 1,562,500 (+127.3%)
  3. Chessington - 1,281,250 (+156.3%)
  4. Thorpe Park - 1,218,750 (+116.7%)

Interestingly, Chessington also had a 2022 figure given. In 2022, the park received 1,468,750 guests, a change of +14.6% on 2021.


Now we have this information, we can work out... which park recovered the best from COVID in 2021?


There are multiple metrics by which we can establish this.


The first potential metric to use is the percentage increases in attendance that each park registered in 2021...

Percentage Increases

  1. Chessington - +156.3% (1,281,250 in 2021 vs 500,000 in 2020)
  2. Alton Towers - +141.9% (2,343,750 in 2021 vs 968,750 in 2020)
  3. Legoland Windsor - +127.3% (1,562,500 in 2021 vs 687,500 in 2020)
  4. Thorpe Park - +116.7% (1,218,750 in 2021 vs 562,500 in 2020)

This metric would suggest that Chessington had the strongest recovery while Thorpe Park had the weakest recovery. However, this is not a perfect metric. This is because the parks' attendance decreased by marginally different amounts in 2020; while all parks were under the same COVID restrictions, some parks were affected more than others. For instance, Chessington's percentage decrease in 2020 was nearly 70%, while Alton Towers' was barely above 60%. This is important because if a park is coming from a more diminished base compared to 2020 in the first place, then its percentage increase is bound to be higher.


A more reliable metric to use is the net percentage decrease from 2019 to 2021...

Net Percentage Decreases Between 2019 and 2021

  1. Alton Towers - -6.3% (2,343,750 in 2021 vs 2,500,000 in 2019)
  2. Thorpe Park - -18.8% (1,218,750 in 2021 vs 1,500,000 in 2019)
  3. Chessington - -22.6% (1,281,250 in 2021 vs 1,656,250 in 2019)
  4. Legoland Windsor - -24.2% (1,562,500 in 2021 vs 2,062,500 in 2019)

This metric would suggest that Alton Towers had by far the strongest recovery in 2021, while Legoland Windsor had the weakest. Alton Towers' recovery in 2021 was miles stronger than that of all the other parks; Alton's 2021 attendance was only 6% lower than its 2019 attendance, while Thorpe Park's was close to 20% lower, Chessington's was over 20% lower, and Legoland's was nearly 25% lower. Why this could be is anyone's guess... I'm certainly stumped by it, as every park was hit by the same COVID restrictions in 2021.


It should be noted that 2021 was still not an entirely COVID-free season, however, as the parks opened nearly a month late and attendance was still somewhat capped until July. With this in mind, 2022 attendance, when it is available for all parks, may be a better indicator... for what it's worth, Chessington's 2022 attendance remains approximately 11.3% lower than its 2019 attendance, so even in 2022, it has not recovered as strongly as Alton Towers managed to in 2021.


Finally, I should remind you that all of this data is viewable in a Google Sheet:



I hope you find this interesting! I know I certainly found it interesting to compile... I'll hopefully see you again some time soon when the 2022 attendance is made available for all parks!

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