Ghouls go to war over the tourist pound

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The Independent Online

Fake blood could soon be shed on the streets of Southwark as a feud between two of London's most macabre tourist attractions threatens to turn nasty.

The recently created London Bridge Experience has complained to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) after its more venerable rival, the London Dungeon, wrote to ticketing agents to insist they choose between the two.

The spooky attractions are just a few metres apart on Tooley Street on the south bank of the Thames, and competition between their salespeople has been intense since the Experience opened three years ago.

Amid accusations of dirty tactics by the Experience's ghoulishly dressed sales operatives, the two companies reached an out-of-court settlement in 2009, in which the newer company agreed not to discourage customers from visiting its long-established rival.

But Merlin Entertainments, which owns the Dungeon as well as Thorpe Park, Madame Tussauds and Legoland, took the step of writing to booking agents when it felt that underhand practices were still going on.

In an attempt to stop the Experience "piggybacking" on the Dungeon's brand and footfall, Merlin told the agencies that it no longer wants to share any sales platforms with its rival – effectively threatening to withdraw its services from the agencies if they did not drop the Experience.

The independently owned newcomer claims this ultimatum breaches competition laws and with several agencies having already backed out, they have asked the OFT to investigate. Merlin says it is within its rights and that some agencies have opted to go with the Experience instead.

While most corporate spats are played out in courtrooms and solicitors' offices, the two rival sales teams face off every day – and many of the Experience's employees have previously worked for the Dungeon.

Speaking to The Independent yesterday, one of the Experience's ghostly representatives admitted that his company operated what might be seen as a "parasitic business model".

He said: "The only reason this place is here is the draw for the Dungeon. If that place wasn't here, we wouldn't be here. We are looking for people who are looking for the Dungeon. We say: 'Have you bought your ticket yet?' and say that this is a better alternative.

"In the summer the queue for the Dungeon stretches right back here and we hand out our leaflets next to it.

However, he said that the competition was largely good-natured, with the rival groups sometimes sharing cigarette breaks together and that he believed the Dungeon did not have any legitimate complaints.

"Last summer they hired some aggressive salespeople who started standing in front of us to block us out and slapped their leaflets on our backs," he said.

"We get a lot more customers online than off the streets and they are frustrated that they are below target."

Sally Ann Wilkinson, head of corporate affairs for Merlin, said the group had "no problem with competitive businesses opening up" but that the Experience was damaging the Dungeon's reputation.