Two of Merlin Entertainments’ UK annual passes are today off-sale, with only the off-peak Discovery pass available.
The Gold and Platinum passes, which allow for more weekend visits and – in the case of Platinum passes – Bank Holidays, are now listed as ‘sold out’.
Interestingly, the Discovery pass, originally launched as being of only limited availability, is still on sale.
Merlin says that the Gold and Platinum passes have been taken off sale to enable the “best experience” for its pass-holders.
The company also cites safety as being a consideration amidst the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.
Merlin is clearly attempting to ensure a more even spread by allowing the weekdays-only Discovery pass to remain on sale.
However, the company’s arguments for taking the passes off sale are not altogether convincing.
Merlin’s much-touted new pre-booking system for pass-holders now means that every guest in Merlin’s attractions will have booked in advance.
It is therefore possible, and relatively easy, to control capacity on any basis, be that guest experience and/or safety.
What seems more likely is that, in order to avoid more of the negative PR seen last year when pass-holders struggled to get access to booking slots, Merlin is prepared to temporarily put a cap on the number of its pass-holders.
It also seems likely that there will have been a surge in pre-bookings by non-pass-holders following the government’s announcement of tentative reopening on 12 April.
The revenue stream from such a surge would be a hard for any company that’s been through a pandemic to resist.
But the decision to take passes off sale solely in the name of guest experience and safety, does raise questions.
And bizarrely, only a few of months after launching three new annual pass products, the Merlin Annual Pass website also now states “we are currently working on our Merlin Annual Pass product offering.”
It’s worth pointing out that the company says that it intends to put its annual passes back on sale.
But whether or not annual pass-holders have lost forever the ability to spontaneously go to a Merlin theme park remains to be seen.
There is simply no real indication that the ‘old model’ will come back – if and when COVID-19 restrictions become a thing of the past.
Merlin has of course applied several extensions to the expiry dates of annual passes, but there are still signs that the annual pass-holder is a less-appealing type of customer than what it once was.