Attractions industry news

24 Dec 2019

Attractions Review 2019: June

It has been another momentous year in the attractions industry, and Attractions Management has been there reporting the big news, good and bad, all the way. After yesterday's look at the events of May 2019, today we move on to June 2019, considering some of the biggest stories that made the headlines that month.

Little Grey and Little White, two beluga whales, made an epic 6,000-mile journey from Shanghai to the cold, welcoming waters of Iceland, and their owner Merlin Entertainments gained new owners of its own. Meanwhile, George RR Martin moved on from Westeros to build new worlds.

Beluga whales retired to sanctuary

It was in June 2019 that Attractions Management reported on the arrival at a specially constructed marine sanctuary in Iceland of two beluga whales that had travelled more than 6,000 miles from their previous home ‒ the Chang Feng Ocean World Aquarium in Shanghai.

Set up by Merlin Entertainments and run by Sea Life Trust, the 32,000sq m (344,000sq ft) inlet at Klettsvik Bay on Heimaey Island in southern Iceland has a sub-Arctic environment that is similar to the whales' natural habitat. The bay was once used to house Keiko, the orca seen in Free Willy.

The 900kg beluga whales, whose names are Little Grey and Little White, came into Merlin Entertainment's hands following its acquisition of the Living and Leisure Australia Group in 2012, which owned Chang Feng Ocean World. The sanctuary can accommodate around 10 animals, so Merlin hopes that other attractions will seek to retire their whales to the site.

Merlin bought by Lego-affiliated entity

There was also big corporate news for Merlin Entertainments, as the company was sold to the family behind toy firm Lego, in partnership with two other investors.

The acquisition valued Merlin's shares at £4.8bn (€5.35bn, USS$6.1bn), plus a further £1.1bn in debt, and saw a newly created entity, Bidco, take control of 70 per cent of Merlin's shares.

Bidco is owned by Kirkbi – a wholly owned subsidiary of KIRKBI A/S, the private holding and investment company of the Kirk Kristiansen family, which manages the LEGO brand – as well as private equity giant Blackstone Core Equity Partners and Canadian pension fund CPPIB.

The new owners said they recognised the need for "significant, long-term investment" to ensure longevity of the existing assets and to drive continued growth for Merlin.

World builder George

Game of Thrones author George RR Martin took up a new position as chief world builder at immersive art collective Meow Wolf.

Martin has been involved with the collective for more than a decade, helping to secure a former bowling alley in Santa Fe in which the multidimensional House of Eternal Return ‒ described by Martin as a "sci-fi world spanning multiple universes" ‒ is based. The venture has attracted more than 1.5 million visitors since opening in 2016.

Meow Wolf also created Kaleidoscape, an interactive art-themed ride and attraction at Denver's Elitch Gardens theme and water park, and plans to open a permanent installation in Denver as well as further venues in Las Vegas and Washington DC in 2020.

Check back with Attractions Management tomorrow for a look back at the highlights from July

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