There was a time when Merlin Entertainments could not sell enough of its annual passes.
However, there is increasing evidence that the number of people that use them to visit attractions is seen as becoming a liability.
Discounts offered during the January – actually running from Boxing Day until early February – sale are not as generous as they once where.
The days of the passes being offered at half-price – as little as three years ago – are now long gone.
This year’s sale price for the ‘standard’ annual pass is some 52% higher than that offered on Boxing Day 2011.
But it is not just the inflation-busting price hikes that suggest that Merlin is attempting to wean people off the pass.
A new round of restrictions were announced during the annual terms and conditions revision announced at the start of this year’s sale.
Admittedly in London, the company’s attractions – Madame Tussauds, Sea Life Aquarium, the London Eye and Dungeon – do get extremely busy in the summer, with long queues.
However it has been deemed that the existing restrictions of blocking standard pass holders access during August are no longer sufficient.
All UK Bank Holidays are now off-limits to standard pass holders.
Both standard and ‘premium’ pass holders – the latter previously enjoying unrestricted access – are also now no longer able to join the queue at with those paying or collecting pre-booked tickets at Madame Tussauds or the Dungeon.
Instead, holders must now queue for a time-allotted ticket – facing the prospect of having to queue for considerable time, come back later and then queue once again.
The forthcoming Shrek’s Adventure attraction will also be off-limits to standard pass holders, while those in possession of a premium pass will have to wait until the busy summer peak has ended.
These measures are perhaps indicative of how annual pass holders are seen as hampering the considerable revenue stream generated by tourists paying on the day in London.
It is possible that the large price rises and increasing of restrictions on both types of annual pass seen recently are a prelude to the pass being withdrawn completely, however only time will tell.
With Merlin’s theme parks – with the exception of Thorpe Park during the Halloween period – largely unaffected by restrictions, another possibility is that London is taken out of the equation all together.
However, with pass holders themselves contributing at least £20 million to Merlin’s coffers simply from purchasing the cards, it is not yet clear how far the company would be willing to go if it meant alienating the majority of those holders.
As with all things in business, it is a balancing act of which group of customers is the one worth chasing financially.
The evidence presented lately is that the annual pass holder may not be that group – at least less so than it was previously.
What’s clear is that the Merlin Annual Pass is rapidly evolving into something much different than what it was just a few years ago.