How Merlin’s parks might change after flotation

FTSE 100As Merlin Entertainments prepares to become a public company within just a few months’ time, the pressure of shareholders will have wide-ranging impact.

The impending stock market flotation will consolidate the expectation of year-on-year continuous growth within the company.

That’s not just income and profits rising year-on-year, it is guest admissions and sales of products within Merlin theme parks that will all be under the microscope.

In its current form – and like any other business – Merlin is under pressure from its owners to demonstrate growth and results.

However, shareholders are likely to add a new level of scrutiny and expectation. We suggest a number of revenue-generating methods that the park could implement and how likely we might be to see them come in.

Taking debit card payments for Fastrack at ride entrances

Reported by recently that Merlin have been seen trialling this at Gardaland in Italy. Almost certain to head to the group’s parks in Britain before long – they’re already doing it here but taking cash payments only at present. Probability: 90%

Further slashing of theme park opening hours

Notably used by Alton Towers in recent years to reduce outgoings, the trend has spread to Thorpe Park’s Fright Night’s this season. It has to be seen as likely that the trend will continue and widen across the parks, as it has been two years since 7pm summer closes were last seen at Alton Towers. Probability: 80%

£50 on-the-day admission prices in 2014

Price hikes have slowed slightly this year compared to recent seasons, where three increases have been seen per year. The £50 barrier is quite psychologically significant and it has to be slightly more likely than not that they will keep prices just under it for next season. Probability: 40%

Charging for the use of the Monorail at Alton Towers

An ageing transit system used to ferry guests between the theme park entrance and the car parks. A standalone charge for its use could be introduced, or perhaps more likely would be that the current £6 car parking charge could be hiked up and rebranded as a ‘Car Park & Family Return Monorail Ticket” package for around £10. Probability: 30%

Charging for the use of toilets

We’ve seen it introduced by a number of councils around the UK in recent decades, and a very small number of privately-owned tourist attractions have introduced the measure. It would certainly cause a major backlash from guests, but a number of Merlin policies have done in the past, and have soon blown over. Probability: 10%

Closing parks on Mondays or other quiet days

Adopted by many smaller independent parks, particularly during term time. While term time opening is rare for the smaller park, Merlin is keen to push its ‘resort’ offerings and is unlikely to want theme parks closed in the middle of the season if it has guests in its hotels. Probability: 10%

Banning the bringing of own food into parks

Enforced by Blackpool Pleasure Beach on the – admittedly legitimate – grounds of there being a lack of space within the park for people to set up picnics, this policy would be a huge PR disaster at Merlin’s more spacious parks. Probability: 5%