London and Manchester terror attacks have hit theme park visitor numbers, says Alton Towers owner

Merlin, the world’s second-biggest visitor attractions group behind Walt Disney, said UK visitors were staying away

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The Independent Online

Merlin Entertainments, operator of Madame Tussauds, Alton Towers and other attractions, has seen a fall in demand from domestic tourists following recent terror attacks in London and Manchester and said on Tuesday foreign visitors could stay away in the coming months.

Shares in Merlin, the world’s second-biggest visitor attractions group behind Walt Disney, fell by as much as 4.1 per cent to lead fallers on the blue chip FTSE 100 index.

The firm, which also runs the London Eye and the Sea Life aquarium, said trading in its London business in the early part of the year had benefited from an increase in foreign visitors to Britain, reflecting the weaker pound.

It said this trend continued in the immediate aftermath of the attack in Westminster on 22 March, although that incident did result in a softer domestic, day-trip market.

Merlin said the subsequent attacks in Manchester on 22 May and London Bridge on 3 June resulted in a further deterioration in domestic demand.

“Given the typical lag between holiday bookings and visitation, we are also cautious on trends in foreign visitation over the coming months,” the firm said.

Merlin, which also owns Legoland, said overall group trading to date had been broadly in line with expectations. It noted that over 70 per cent of 2016 profit was generated from outside the UK.

Prior to Tuesday’s update, analysts were on average forecasting a 2017 pretax profit of £306m up from £259m last year.

“I remain confident in the company’s underlying growth prospects,” chief executive Nick Varney said.

He said the longer term impact of the terror attacks was unclear.

“What is clear, however, is that London has bounced back before, and will do again,” he added. “I have every confidence in the longer term resilience and growth trajectory of the market.”

Shares in Merlin, up 12 per cent this year, were down 14 pence at 488.8 pence at 0748 GMT, valuing the business at about £5bn.