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.