* Merlin Entertainments saw Nov/Dec jump in visitors from EU
* Says trend has continued into 2017
* Full-year pretax profit up 3.4 percent
* Shares down 3.8 pct; had been up 11 pct in 2017
(Adds detail, CEO comment, shares)
By James Davey and Kate Holton
LONDON, March 2 European tourist visits to
London have picked up since November, with the benefit of a
weaker pound outweighing security concerns, Merlin
Entertainments, said after reporting full-year results
Merlin, operator of attractions including Madame Tussauds
and Sea Life, said in September that security worries after
attacks in Europe were deterring families and school groups from
visiting London even though sterling's depreciation since the
Brexit vote made the capital better value for overseas visitors.
The pound has fallen 11 percent against the euro and 17
percent against the U.S. dollar since Britain voted to leave the
European Union in June.
"There’s always going to be a lag, but by November, December
we started to see what we would expect, which is a big uptick in
EU visitors to London," Chief Executive Nick Varney told
Reuters, adding that the upturn has continued into this year.
Varney said that attractions such as the Tussauds waxworks
and London Eye Ferris wheel are bellwethers of the London and UK
tourism economy because about 80 percent of their visitors are
foreign, with half of those from EU countries.
The Merlin CEO said that in the absence of attacks the most
important factor in determining tourist flows into city centres
is price, which is mainly driven by foreign exchange.
“I’ve been around for 26 years in this business, I’ve seen
the IRA (Irish Republican Army) right the way through to Islamic
State," Varney said.
"The impact of them (attacks) is, in my experience, never
more than six months."
Varney said that Merlin, which also owns the Legoland
business and theme parks such as Alton Towers, entered 2017 in a
strong position after a 3.4 percent rise in 2016 pretax profit.
However, shares in the company were down 3.6 percent at
479.3 pence by 1243 GMT, having climbed by 11 percent in 2017
prior to Thursday's results.
Some analysts noted that forecast capital expenditure for
2017 at up to 390 million pounds ($478 million), compared with
259 million pounds last year, was higher than expected.
The world's second-biggest visitor attractions group behind
Walt Disney made a pretax profit of 259 million pounds,
up from 250 million pounds in 2015, on revenue up 11.7 percent
at 1.43 billion pounds. The dividend was raised by 9.2 percent
to 7.1 pence.
Varney remained relaxed about the impact of Brexit on
"The German government won't tell us to stop employing lots
of Germans ... And I don't believe anybody is going to be silly
enough to suddenly make it difficult for Germans and French and
Italians to come to London to spend their money," he said.
"I retain optimism both in the government's approach and the
belief that we'll get a good outcome."
($1 = 0.8153 pounds)
(Editing by David Goodman)