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Alton Towers visitor numbers down as Merlin 'learns lessons' of Smiler crash

Published 29/09/2016

The number of people visiting Alton Towers is still being affected by the Smiler rollercoaster crash, owner Merlin Entertainments said
The number of people visiting Alton Towers is still being affected by the Smiler rollercoaster crash, owner Merlin Entertainments said

Alton Towers owner Merlin Entertainments said it had "learned every lesson" from last year's Smiler rollercoaster crash as it revealed that visitor numbers were still being affected.

The group said the Alton Towers theme park had seen trading start to recover over the summer, but admitted that visitor numbers were still "some way" below levels before last year's collision, in which five people seriously injured, including two teenagers who each lost a leg.

Merlin was fined £5 million earlier this week after admitting health and safety breaches.

Judge Michael Chambers QC, passing sentence at Stafford Crown Court, called the accident a "catastrophic failure" by the company involving basic health and safety measures.

In Merlin's latest trading update, chief executive Nick Varney said: "We have learned every lesson from what happened last year and made a number of technical and procedural improvements to make sure that an accident like this cannot happen again."

Merlin said its resort theme parks - which also include Thorpe Park and Chessington World Of Adventures - was now seeing year-on-year growth in like-for-like revenues, up 3% in the nine months to September 17, after signs of a recovery at Alton Towers.

But the group warned that recent terrorist attacks across Europe have hit demand for its London attractions and said there had been no boost so far from the Brexit-hit pound on tourism trade.

Like-for-like revenues over the 38-week period fell 0.4% at its so-called midway attractions , such as Madame Tussauds and The Dungeons, although i t said its Eye-Popping Days Out marketing campaign helped halt the decline in August.

Merlin said underlying earnings margins would remain under pressure throughout 2017, but added that it was focusing on cutting costs and targeting its marketing in strategic markets.

Overall it posted a 1.3% rise in like-for-like revenues across its attractions.

Mr Varney said: "London in particular continues to suppress overall trading performance as we are yet to see any significant benefit from the depreciation of sterling."

Merlin shares fell as much as 6.6% after the update.

George Salmon, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said Merlin's trading over the peak summer season has "disappointed".

He added: "Theme Parks may have returned to growth, but have made little headway in recovering ground on the 9% drop in revenues this time last year, the period that followed the crash."

No-one from Merlin has resigned over the Smiler incident.

Speaking outside the court after the fine earlier this week, Mr Varney ignored repeated questions from reporters as to whether he would step down.

Lawyers for Merlin said the company had seen a £14 million drop in revenue as a result of the crash and had made 30 changes to safety measures, equipment and training.

The Smiler reopened earlier this year.

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