Merlin reveals Bear Grylls attraction deal as growth stalls

Tough summer results in minimal like for like upturn

Merlin Entertainments is set to open the first Bear Grylls Adventure attraction at the NEC next year and has also signed a multi-territory deal for the Peppa Pig license as it revealed its third quarter results.

A planning application to transform the NEC’s Pavilion building was submitted under a code name by Merlin Attractions Operations earlier this year. The attraction represents a £20 million investment and will be aimed at the growing late teen and young adult market for adventure-stye activities and include a cafe and shop.

It will be the only one of its kind in the UK to draw in visitors from all over the country, but the plan is to roll it out abroad.

News of the deal emerged when Merlin’s third quarter trading figures were published.

NEC Group CEO Paul Thandi said: “We’re delighted to confirm that Merlin Entertainments – a world leader in visitor attractions – has announced the launch of the first ‘The Bear Grylls Adventure’ which will open at the NEC in 2018.

“Across the NEC Group we’re committed to connecting audiences with great content and this will be an important addition to the leisure and entertainment facilities already provided on the NEC campus. The opening of Resorts World Birmingham on the NEC site in 2015 was a significant moment in the Group’s leisure strategy evolution and kick-started a period of ongoing development.

“Merlin Entertainments are the perfect partners to create this first-of-its-kind large scale attraction.

“Using that as a catalyst, we’ve already started to explore the possibilities that larger numbers on our NEC site can bring by launching an event with mass market appeal (Dinosaurs in the Wild). Not only will the ‘The Bear Grylls Adventure’ attraction create genuine destination credentials it will also give our customers even more of the experiences they want from us. It will offer valuable benefits including job creation and by adding to the tourism and leisure offer in the area.

“Merlin Entertainments are the perfect partners to create this first-of-its-kind large scale attraction.

Meanwhile, it has also struck a deal to roll out new Peppa Pig attractions worldwide.

It has signed an agreement with Entertainment One – which owns the rights to the popular children’s cartoon character – to develop new attractions and themed accommodation based on the pre-school favourite.

The first new Peppa Pig attractions will open within existing resorts in 2018, with a standalone attraction due to open in 2019. The extended deal does not cover the UK, where there is already Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park in Hampshire under a long-standing agreement, and is also non-exclusive in China.

Regarding the firm’s latest financials, Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, said: “After strong early-season momentum across most of our businesses, we have experienced difficult trading over the summer period, as the spate of terror attacks witnessed in the UK marked an inflection point in Midway London and UK theme park trading.”

Merlin said trading had also been “mixed” in recent weeks and predicted flat like-for-like revenue growth over the year ahead. A tough summer market, affected by the London terror attacks affected growth.

The firm said 2017 earnings were set to grow to between £470 million and £480 million, up from £451 million in 2016. It will also redirect £100 million of investment away from its attractions between 2018 and 2021, putting the cash instead into developing new hotels.

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