Editorial: How Merlin’s Annual Pass is damaging

London EyeMany will have seen the claims of how quickly a Merlin Annual Pass “pays for itself”, or how much it can “save” its owners.

It is abundantly clear that comparing the product’s price to, and calculating savings based on, on-the-day attraction admission prices – which virtually no one pays – is a questionable practice.

It is also relatively obvious that those in possession of the pass would be unlikely to make dozens of visits per year and pay the thousands of pounds that would likely cost if the pass were not available.

But what is not as obvious is that the average Merlin Annual Pass holder would surely be less inclined to visit any of Britain’s independent theme parks, or indeed other tourist attractions.

The latter is particularly relevant to London.

The capital’s large number of free museums and art galleries have in the past been criticised by Merlin chief executive Nick Varney as being used primary by “foreign tourists and middle class people who can afford it.”

Discouraging visits elsewhere

Few foreign tourists would be in possession of an annual pass and indeed do take advantage of things they do not have to pay to enter, but their witnessing of uniquely British art and culture is not something that should be discouraged.

However, the estimated 200,000 Merlin Annual Passes in the UK do effectively tie people to Merlin’s attractions, and indirectly discourage people to stay away from independent theme parks and other paid attractions in Britain.

We are not talking the hardened theme park enthusiast as a huge majority. Indeed, the family annual pass is extremely popular with those with two or more children, where multiple attraction admissions become hugely significant when added up over the year.

Varney doesn’t often talk about the British visitor to his company’s attractions, as those in possession of an annual pass a virtual guarantee of an income stream from food, drink and souvenirs – encouraged by a pass perk of 20% off motorway service station-esque prices within.

Like any product, it is the value the individual places on it that ultimately counts – but unless you are as loyal to Merlin as you are to your favourite football team, letting a season ticket lapse might just force the mind to open up to new possibilities – and new experiences.

4 comments

  1. Andrew Jackson says:

    Our family had passes till the end of march this year and went to alton towers on opening weekend. But was very disappointed on our return the main ticket area looked a mess with no work done over the closed season. as did some other areas. I don’t think it helped that we went to florid in December were the attention to detail is incredible. Also living in Hull we had enough of the 4 hour round trip and with only sea life at Scarborough within a 1 1/2 hour radius decided against renewing our passes.will still go to alton towers but only once a year or if any good resort offers on.

  2. Deano says:

    On principal, they are a great incentive to visit all their attractions at a reduced cost. Having a family it made sense for us to get the pass this year. I can’t see us renewing it though. Once we have had a good and busy year with it we will probably leave it next year.

    I would agree that it would put you off visiting other theme parks for sure. We would always ask what we could use our pass on before we go anywhere!!!

    • Editor says:

      Many thanks for your comment Dean, it’s exactly what I had been hearing from families and partly inspired this article. Thanks for reading.

  3. Peter Andrews says:

    I held a Tussauds pass from 2006 and then when Merlin took over in 2009 had one until 2012. Thats 7 seasons. For me, the more I went to the parks, the more problems I saw. The flaking paint, the poor ride operations… The list could go on.

    I was looking at having a pass as, that I had to visit to get value for money, rather than thinking do I actually want to go?

    Since October 2012, I have only visited Thorpe Park and Alton Towers a couple of times each, where previously I would have visited these parks numerous times each year and also the other Merlin Parks and the their midway attractions and not really had a good time.

    I visited Thorpe Park today and had a great time, a full 12 months since my last visit. Would I have had such a good time if I was a pass holder and frequented the park very often? probably not.

    My visit today, was about enjoying the park. Not being critical of ride operations or the rides (although Swarm is a lot rougher than its opening day)

    Will I be getting another Merlin pass. No, not for me… A couple of visits to Alton and Thorpe each year will do me nicely thank you.