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Merlin Entertainments

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43 minutes ago, Ringo said:

@ChiapasC.I’ve not named him, but you have despite saying you aren’t sure how appropriate it is to comment on it.

 

It hasn’t been denied and the fact TowersStreet posted that Ian Crabbe is currently acting as interim director at Thorpe whilst maintaining his Towers commitment confirms he is no longer the parks director.

 

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His name is hardly a secret - as I said, any Divisional Director's name appears in basically any piece of marketing. A link to an article with his name was posted in a different thread too.

 

I stand by my comment that I don't know how appropriate it is to discuss this, but if the discussion is going to carry on, it's only fair to have more balanced facts than just guessing and going on hearsay.

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I agree that it is probably not appropriate to discuss individuals and I do normally try not to comment negatively on individuals working at the park. However I feel that the last 1 and a half years the park has taken a serious dive. The concerns I had when it was announced the Midway's guy was taking charge pretty much all manifested themselves. While it might be a misinterpretation and lack of information I feel that ultimately the blame for the parks decline ends up on the directors shoulders.

As for my comments on Varney I have great respect for him to turnaround the mess that was the parks and turn it into the giant that is Merlin Entertainments from his branding background. However with recent performance and the direction the company is going in I have doubts if he is still the best person for the Job and shareholders will certainly be asking the same thing. End of the day the company is hardly making any money and the time to keep blaming market conditions and weather is running out. 

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23 minutes ago, ChiapasC. said:

His name is hardly a secret - as I said, any Divisional Director's name appears in basically any piece of marketing. A link to an article with his name was posted in a different thread too.

 

I stand by my comment that I don't know how appropriate it is to discuss this, but if the discussion is going to carry on, it's only fair to have more balanced facts than just guessing and going on hearsay.

Apologies I misread that as in he’s not exactly known to the public so shouldn’t be identified. 

 

It is fact he’s no longer in that job position though?

 

The direction the park has headed in has been questionable though. Thorpe has a history of a cycle of attracting family guests and then undoing all that effort by alienating them, we’ve seen that again this year with Year of the Walking Dead, Walking Dead the ride & love island to name a few.

 

Fright Nights has gone for quantity instead of quality. Behaviour of some staff has been questionable and wouldn’t be tolerated at say Towers. 

 

But on the flip he did oversee the entrance area improvements and driven home the brand of the Island and managed to bring the theme back into theme park with parkwide audio changes and improvements. 

 

Time will tell what other changes the interim director makes.

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AT management taking over? Og goodie. Can we expect stargazing sheds slung in the carpark over closed season? Maybe some nice staggered openings for next season? Or perhaps the mazes will be upcharge by next frightnights?

 

I'm not a fan of how Thorpe has been run these last few seasons, but considering how bad it has been elsewhere I wouldn't hold out too much hope of a sudden massive improvement. The rot comes from higher up than divisional. AT have 'succeeded' in the eyes of Merlin by making huge cuts which have been detrimental to most visitors and the long term health of the park, but good for the bottom line right now. It looks like Thorpe tried a different path of investing and promoting, but some poor choices mean it didn't work as well on the balance sheet. The alternative is probably not better...

 

 

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Well we already have staggered openings, rotational operations and seasonal attractions at Thorpe.

up-charge on parts of Fright Nights wouldn’t be a bad thing, it manages queues and could improve the experience.

 

Ironically despite the cuts at Towers, although taken with a pinch of salt at the start of the year in an interview with Blooloop

Quote

Although I can’t reveal numbers, Alton is already up there among the best in the Merlin KPI  league tables.” 

Blooloop

 

And today another bit of info of what’s gone wrong at Thorpe came to light with the info the park now being right at the bottom Merlin’s leaderboard for guest surveys- 192 out of 200! Attendance has fallen & profits fallen. It’s not hard to see why such drastic action is needed to drag the park back up. 

 

(Credit to @HermanTheGerman who posted over at TowersStreet)

 

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Merlin have today launched new monthly membership options, standard passes are £8.99 a month with a £29.99 joining fee and premiums are £11.99 per month with a £34.99 joining fee.

 

Both have a minimum term of 12 months, prices are actually pretty decent and offer a saving over the upfront cost - the idea I guess it people signing up and stating a member.

 

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I had Merlin Membership (standard) when it first came out and it was really handy as I wasn’t able to fork out a lump sum in one go.  I’m guessing in the past, people signed up for it (which was meant to be minimum 12 months) and maybe cancelled after a couple of months of lots of park trips  

They never had the sign up fee before so I’m thinking perhaps this is to deter it happening again? 

I do think it’s a great idea for people on a budget - especially families who can’t afford to whack out a few hundred quid on passes in one go 

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This has actually solved my problem of not having the money in one go right now to get a MAP 👍🏻 (Plus I suck at saving up for things anyway 😆) Ordered mine on Monday and got it today, perfect timing for the meet on Saturday 😁

 

I did laugh when I saw how they decided to style it...

 

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The other side is the same, so my photo is all stretched 😂 And the barcode is shorter (hopefully it will scan at the turnstiles). I’m glad this time they look pretty much the same as MAPs; I had quite a few issues with my Membership last time due to staff saying they’d never seen one before/not even knowing what it was 😝

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Bar the Legoland parks all the "standalone" Merlin theme parks have either had yearly visitors stay roughly the same or decrease. Merlin's money grabbing tactics and "playing the victim" card about how they can only do so much when they run their attractions have to stop. I'm sure they're aware of the constant low feedback their parks get and really this needs addressing. It's simply not right for a company that owns some of the biggest parks in their respective countries to have startlingly low increases or even decreases in attendance across the board for all their parks.

 

https://queue-times.com/parks/1/attendances (slight increase, 2018 data not yet released so Wickerman's effect on attendance isn't yet known)

https://queue-times.com/parks/3/attendances (CWOA had a small 20K increase between 2016 to 2017, 2018's Tiger Rock's effect not yet known)

https://queue-times.com/parks/12/attendances (decrease at Heide Park)

https://queue-times.com/parks/2/attendances (Thorpe Park, stayed roughly the same since 2015 Smiler crash, 2018 can be presumed to be roughly the same/ slightly lower)

https://queue-times.com/parks/12/attendances (Gardaland had a whopping 280,000 decrease in attendance between 2016 to 2017, 2018 can be presumed to be much lower although that may be to economic conditions, I don't follow the Italian news)

 

Compared to other parks which saw increases in their attendance (you can look up attendances here: https://queue-times.com/parks - click on the park and click "Historical Attendance Data"), the blame can't be put down to the market conditions. The problem stems from customers at Merlin parks echoing the same concerns and problems that we as enthusiasts have - just look at the comments section of any of their posts on social media or their Trip Advisor reviews for any of their parks. As this is a trend across the board the blame can't be put down to lack of new attractions or one particular park's terrible management. It's clearly a company issue that stems from neglecting one of the most fundamental principles of the sector they're in: Magical days out.

 

That said, in 2012 Disneyland Paris's attendance was over 12 million a year. Now it's 9.6 mil a year. However, 2016 to 2017 still saw an increase in numbers though.

 

I admit attendance growth in a short span of time like 3 years-ish isn't a measure of a park's success nor is the above data potentially accurate. However, decreases in attendance across all your parks indicate it isn't a market problem but more a company problem and decreases in attendance could potentially get so low that the park may be forced to shut, something most of us on this forum do not want to happen. Once these basic guest complaints are addressed will new attractions increase attendance as they should (your AT Dungeons for example).

 

I thank you all for reading my last post until new planning permissions are released by Thorpe Park. 

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Two things to take into consideration when looking at attendance data...

 

1) The data published online is not always accurate. Many parks will announce numbers which look good for them, and avoid the truth. Some parks get around this by not publicly announcing bad years. Big parks, like the Merlin parks, just tweak the numbers because they like the shout about how they're second biggest to Disney in terms of attendance.

 

Equally, some companies which own multiple parks sometimes understate a park's attendance number. Imagine investing in a big new ride at one park, and nothing in the second park, and the second park gets a dramatic increase, whilst the first gets nothing. Companies are afraid that it reflects badly on their investment choice, and aren't in a position to publicly defend the reasons why.

 

2) Constant growth is not sustainable. Of all the parks in Europe, I think only two (Europa and Efteling) have successfully increased or stabilised attendance year on year over the past 10 years. And if you look at any five year period, most parks will suffer a dip or a period of stagnation.

 

Some Merlin parks have their own individual issues which can explain some of their attendance issues over the past 5 years..

 

Alton Towers - Smiler crash. It's been a slow recovery, on top of the park already making cutbacks prior to the incident. Just by visiting in 2018, though, you can tell that's done the trick.

Thorpe Park - Failed major investment in Ghost Train. Lack of direction and additions to get people coming back.

Heide Park - Colossos closure hit the park majorly, along with increased thrill competition from Hansa Park.

 

That's not to say what you've said is wrong. Merlin are struggling to get the basics right in many cases, and there's some strange investment choices. And Merlin in general still haven't learnt how to utilise things such as Trip Advisor to their advantage (this is a big reason why Paulton's has been so successful of late in my opinion). But, at the same time, this is arguably a natural dip / stagnation period for many Merlin parks, which is being made worse by the issues you say. If you were to look at the Merlin parks and compare them to other parks between 2008-2013, say, you'd see Merlin attendance truly booming, whilst other parks struggled.

 

The true test is how the parks perform in the next 2-3 years. That'll indicate whether the parks are simply in a dip or if they've regressed for the long term.

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32 minutes ago, Coaster said:

I said the minute they announced the details of DBGT that it'd be a failure, a catastrophically expensive one at that, and was ridiculed.

Weird flex but ok.

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5 hours ago, JoshC. said:

2) Constant growth is not sustainable. Of all the parks in Europe, I think only two (Europa and Efteling) have successfully increased or stabilised attendance year on year over the past 10 years. And if you look at any five year period, most parks will suffer a dip or a period of stagnation.

This is very true, you have to invest to maintain attendance rather than grow (once your park reaches a certain threshold) and then grow your profits by accumulating them year on year. Unfortuantely if you have a company only interested in short term growth rather than sustaining its existing parks, you get the kind of decisions Merlin makes.

They do better than any random investment company would, but still create a constant battle between themselves and its own parks, with no proper vision for the parks and anything without PR newness just abandoned.

5 hours ago, JoshC. said:

how to utilise things such as Trip Advisor to their advantage (this is a big reason why Paulton's has been so successful of late in my opinion).

What about the fact they are great value for what they offer and are opening more entertaining family attractions than their rival Legoland? Surely the TripAdvisor reviews reflect the popularity of the park, not the other way round?

37 minutes ago, Coaster said:

I said the minute they announced the details of DBGT that it'd be a failure, a catastrophically expensive one at that, and was ridiculed

You shouldnt have been ridiculed, but still nobody really could have known how poor it was at the time. Once the whole "totally unique experience, guests will spend 20 minutes through the whole experience, etc" was announced I began to have a strong feeling and question whether Merlin could pull this off.

The core ride idea was something special, but it was very poorly produced and planned. Should never have gone slap in the middle of Thorpe Park of all parks. It's an icon of how dysfunctional and hypocritical Merlin are, but nobody on the outside could have really known it at the time.

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32 minutes ago, Coaster said:

I said the minute they announced the details of DBGT that it'd be a failure, a catastrophically expensive one at that, and was ridiculed.

 

Hmmmmm...

 

On 10/26/2015 at 8:11 AM, Coaster said:

The psychological tagline being used again?

It does sound promising though, and Derren Brown... Never saw that coming lol!

 

On 10/27/2015 at 11:00 PM, Coaster said:

Mixed thoughts on the theme for this, it is an interesting concept but it does seem a little odd to theme a ride on an illusionist - although I'm sure all will become clear.

Scruffy Dog seem capable of producing good theming when they are given the right budget/timescale, so lets hope they have.

 

;) 

 

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2 minutes ago, Benin said:

 

 

Hmmmmm...

 

 

 

;) 

 

You don't really have a point, since I said when the details were announced which was in January 2016.

 

All we knew back in 2015 was that it would be psychological and that Derren Brown would be involved.  The details (in particular that it would be a VR experience) were announced in Jan 16.

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4 minutes ago, Coaster said:

You don't really have a point, since I said when the details were announced which was in January 2016.

 

All we knew back in 2015 was that it would be psychological and that Derren Brown would be involved.  The details (in particular that it would be a VR experience) were announced in Jan 16.

 

I mean, it was a joke, but if you're wanting to be THAT pedantic then your first post after the official announcement from the park (there was seemingly a few discussions regarding VR in use and what-not prior to this) was as follows:

 

On 1/18/2016 at 7:34 AM, Coaster said:

A 60 seat train carriage sounds like the bus thing on Shrek (although I'm not sure - haven't been on it).

I'm not sold on it yet, and the name is uncreative to say the least.

 

Not sold = INSTANT FAILURE LOL WUT R THEY LIKE!

 

You even said the run-down show building facade was lovely in the post after ;) 

 

 

12 minutes ago, Wumbamillio said:

What about the fact they are great value for what they offer and are opening more entertaining family attractions than their rival Legoland? Surely the TripAdvisor reviews reflect the popularity of the park, not the other way round?

 

It's always interesting to see how our continental cousins rate on those old 1 star reviews, and one thing I notice beyond the usual "QUEUES ARE LONG AND PARK IS BUSY" stuff there's a lot of complaints about the smoking... Efteling is full of those kind of reviews...

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5 minutes ago, Benin said:

 

I mean, it was a joke, but if you're wanting to be THAT pedantic then your first post after the official announcement from the park (there was seemingly a few discussions regarding VR in use and what-not prior to this) was as follows:

 

 

Not sold = INSTANT FAILURE LOL WUT R THEY LIKE!

 

You even said the run-down show building facade was lovely in the post after ;) 

 

 

 

It's always interesting to see how our continental cousins rate on those old 1 star reviews, and one thing I notice beyond the usual "QUEUES ARE LONG AND PARK IS BUSY" stuff there's a lot of complaints about the smoking... Efteling is full of those kind of reviews...

 

Actually, I'm talking about this post.

 

Screenshot_20190125-130926_Samsung Internet.jpg

 

There were other posts elsewhere, never said it was posted directly to this forum.

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Which doesn't say it will be a failure, you proposed that it COULD fail and there were some potential pitfalls (much like most others did); but who doesn't like a good old Merlin style over-exaggeration of what was said?

 

 

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10 minutes ago, Benin said:

Which doesn't say it will be a failure, you proposed that it COULD fail and there were some potential pitfalls (much like most others did); but who doesn't like a good old Merlin style over-exaggeration of what was said?

Yeah, but I did say it wasn't all posted to the forum :)

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1 hour ago, Wumbamillio said:

What about the fact they are great value for what they offer and are opening more entertaining family attractions than their rival Legoland? Surely the TripAdvisor reviews reflect the popularity of the park, not the other way round?

My point more was that Paulton's actually pay attention to Trip Advisor, have a strong presence on there and get people posting good comments on there. That's something Merlin struggle with miserably at the moment. People trust Trip Advisor a lot, so Paulton's using it to their advantage is an understated reason for their success of late. Of course their offering is a huge part of that, but without the proper usage of the likes of Trip Advisor, they wouldn't be doing as well in my opinion.

1 hour ago, Coaster said:

I said the minute they announced the details of DBGT that it'd be a failure, a catastrophically expensive one at that, and was ridiculed.

In fairness, I stand by the sentiment that DBGT could have been something truly extraordinary. The transportation from one scene (hanging warehouse) to another (train station) is quite remarkable, and gets a lot of people. To use of VR had potential - if they managed to actually have 12 different scenarios running all at the same time, that would have been brilliant. 

 

The issues with it are plentiful, and many of them I don't think could have been predicted from the initial announcement. Stuff like the ride transit not working, the building being too hot, etc. Though there were many people who made very good points about it being a potential flop. 

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56 minutes ago, JoshC. said:

Stuff like the ride transit not working, the building being too hot, etc. Though there were many people who made very good points about it being a potential flop. 

This is very true these major problems couldn't have been foreseen by enthusiasts, but they should have been by the project managers. I study building design/production and project management, I'm not an expert but I can say these are certainly bread and butter for any project. Same for a lot of Merlin projects, these things are known about but corners are cut relentlessly.

Same for Ninjago's lack of air conditioning at Legoland – cut from the budget to save money and now we have staff fainting in summer and cheapo air cons added at the park's expense. But anything to cut MMM's project budget. Or countless other scenarios at Merlin parks, that later cost them more.

But the irony with DBGT is the project budget was so ludicrously high anyway, they could have rebuilt half the park with that! As well as cutting corners and not value-engineering their projects, Merlin are extremely wasteful. "Efficient with capex" they are not, unlike what Nick Varney believes they are.

But probably more important than all of that is the entertainment factor. DBGT is a pretentious, unentertaining load of nonsense, designed by self-congratulatory out of touch hipsters. (haha) Despite all the problems behind the scenes, it had the beginnings of a great theme and should have at least been fun!

I totally agree the core idea and the way the illusion works could have been phenomenal. But it missed every single opportunity to entertain, and squandered that amazing train system.

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It’s no secret that the majority of Merlin attractions are currently going through some sort of decline, whether that be Thorpe, the midways or even the Legolands (as there have been reports of profits dropping there too).

 

Whilst things like ‘cheaper flights’, terrorism, the economy and recent ride accidents are just some things that may have hindered visitor numbers, Merlin cannot be cleared of all charges by any means.

 

Over recent years, we have generally seen  charm, character, atmosphere, upkeep/appearances and general pride dwindle in these parks. There is typically less escapism when you are bombarded by ‘cheap short-term attractions’, walking adverts and ‘exposed ride buildings’ -see  DBGT, Ninjago etc.). The fact they have stuck ‘cheap’ Lego monsters on there only salts the wound further and epitomises this. 

 

It’s a fact the U.K. parks are generally capped when it comes to growth and expansion, largely down to space limitation, strict planning or most likely both, but this shouldn’t be a hinderance to what the parks could do, if they were allowed the resources to create entertaining attractions.

 

The Wickerman is a pure example of this. Sure, it’s probably not the best layout for a roller coaster, but through it’s compelling storyline, effects, atmospheric soundtrack and theming proves the parks and the U.K. can still create distinctive and memorable attractions that the G.P. will love and enjoy. 

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Investors are starting to become worried that underwhelming economic performance is not due to current market conditions and is more to do with the quality of the attractions. In April when the latest financial data is released and another underwhelming year is revealed the share price will either fall or flatline. Investor predictions will most likely turn to sell and Varney will be under pressure to make changes or walk. 

 

From what he has said in the past he doesn't like change and blames standard cycles in the economy. What I feel Varney has failed to take account of is that the current economic cycle has just past its peak and it is very unlikely they will be able to increase profits in the coming years with the eurozone heading towards recession.

 

With any luck the board will oust Varney and someone with a refreshed vision can take the reigns. You really have to question if one person can continue to come up with new ideas to drive forward the company for as long as Varney has been there. His current direction is suffocating the parks and I see issues on the horizon as major assets reach the end of there service life. 

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