Belfast Telegraph

Merlin pours cold water on SeaWorld takeover prospects

Industry sources had said the Alton Towers owner was eyeing a potential deal to help accelerate its global expansion.

Alton Towers owner Merlin Entertainments has said it is not in takeover talks with SeaWorld, a week after reports surfaced suggesting it had approached the group.

In a short statement issued on Wednesday, Merlin said: “We can confirm that Merlin is not involved in any discussions that might lead to an acquisition of SeaWorld or any of its constituent parts.”

It comes following speculation that Merlin was eyeing a potential deal with SeaWorld to help accelerate its global expansion.

The London Eye to Thorpe Park firm is thought to have approached SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment about buying part of the business, but not for a full-blown takeover.

Merlin’s corporate policy prevents it from keeping whales and dolphins, suggesting it could have been making a tilt for Busch Gardens – SeaWorld’s rollercoaster theme park in Tampa, Florida.

It comes after Merlin’s chief financial officer Anne-Francoise Nesmes signalled in an August results call that the firm might be interested in snapping up Busch Gardens.

Shares in Merlin dropped 1% in afternoon trading on the London Stock Exchange following the announcement.

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Merlin has moved to bolster its international presence of late, launching the likes of Madame Tussauds in Nashville and Legoland in California.

However, the Dorset-based firm has seen visitor numbers at its UK attractions come under pressure following a spate of terror attacks.

SeaWorld has been hit by flagging visitor numbers and has hired chairman Yoshikazu Maruyama to lead a revival.

The US firm, which also owns Aquatica and Discovery Cove, has seen a shift in ownership, with private equity firm Blackstone selling its 21% stake to a subsidiary of China’s Zhonghong Zhuoye Group.

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