Merlin turning to annual pass to aid recovery

Saw - The Ride, Thorpe Park

The latest sale of Merlin Annual Passes was launched yesterday, on from the pre-Christmas discounts previously offered.

It comes amidst eye-watering inflation levels, officially 6.2% but in reality several times that for energy-related and many other products.

Merlin Entertainments has itself increased admission prices at some of its UK-based attractions by up to almost 10% since the start of the year.

Annual passes are however a different story. Not only have their prices remained stationary, the level of discount being offered now matches that of last-year’s sale.

The price of the passes is therefore falling for consumers in real terms. But why would this be the case?

The answer could be that Merlin, still reeling from huge losses associated with COVID-19 closures, is looking for another injection of cash.

It is hard to gauge how many sign-ups these sales attract, but financial certainty has become an increasingly recurring theme in Merlin’s approach since coronavirus restrictions began to be eased.

London Eye
Merlin’s London attractions have been heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic

The monthly membership options were also resurrected last year following a hiatus. These too have been significantly discounted in recent months.

Although well-documented, the unpredictability of theme park attendances is likely to be a source of frustration to the company’s now private shareholders.

The board of directors is therefore in turn probably signing off new initiatives with revenue stabilisation in mind.

Admission pre-booking for pass-holders – as well as everyone else these days – is also likely here to stay. This naturally allows intra-day adjustments to operations to minimise costs at the attractions.

An old strategy

The off-peak Discovery annual pass – again discounted to £69 in this latest sale – has also been tweaked for 2022, allowing for more Sundays and even some Saturdays across the year.

It is clearly all part of a strategy to smooth out attendances as much as possible, while simultaneously making cash flow more stable.

The new Silver pass represents something of a u-turn on the original strategy when annual passes were re-launched.

At that time, there was a move towards more extreme offerings, a heavily-discounted Discovery pass primarily offering access at weekdays, and a virtually unlimited Platinum pass significantly more costly than previous offerings.

Merlin Discovery Pass
The Discovery pass has had its access dates widened for the 2022 season

Although the Gold pass did sit somewhere in the middle in terms of access and cost, it was still restrictive compared to the previous Premium pass offering.

But the Silver pass, with its increased accessibility, clearly marked a return to the old model, with one significant exception.

The considerable discounts for family purchases of three or four passes at a time were removed last year and have not yet returned.

This pushed the price of unlimited access to Merlin’s attractions up to about £1,200 a year for a family of four.

Many families subsequently switched to the cheaper passes, or stopped being pass-holders altogether – although again the scale of this isn’t clear.

There is however the option of another u-turn on this from Merlin, who may eventually seek to further return to the old – and largely tried and tested – method of mass annual pass sign-ups across all demographics.