The Sinking Ship: (Un)Love Letters to Merlin

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by AstroDan, 20th Nov 2016.

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  1. John

    John TowersStreet Member

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    The park was packed in 2010, think that was the year I queued nearly an hour for Nemesis on a regular September Saturday. The fall since then has been dramatic, and it would be unfair to blame that entirely on the Smiler crash. The future is not looking good, even with the prospect of a wooden coaster on the horizon.
     
  2. AstroDan

    AstroDan TS Forum Team Team Member

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    The worry is that the budget for the wooden coaster is low for an Alton SW.

    The ride will probably be decent enough, but it could be a case of 'what if...'.
     
  3. Dar

    Dar TowersStreet Member

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    I worry that after this disaster of a season, and the negative press that has surrounded the entire industry in this country, that it'll be less a case of 'what if...' and more a case of 'so what?'. Especially for the general public that have had their confidence shaken in the park.
     
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  4. AstroDan

    AstroDan TS Forum Team Team Member

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    Guest figures have been better in 2016 than 2015. Maybe not as would have been hoped for, but certainly there's an upward trend. 2017 should continue this.
     
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  5. Towerslover

    Towerslover TowersStreet Member

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    They can't expect figures to rise without major investment. Let's be honest vr was never going to do it.
     
  6. Altonadvocate1

    Altonadvocate1 TowersStreet Member

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    Wow, what a popular thread, and what a load of moaning Minnie's.

    AT isn't perfect and it never was, but it has always been a place full of magic to me for 40 years.

    Merlin are far from perfect, but if AT had not been part of such a group following The Smiler incident, we would probably not have an open theme park right now, and within a couple of years it would be in the hands of The National Trust, who would charge £18 to look around the Towers and Gardens with absolutely nothing else.

    I think it is unfair to say that Merlin have failed to invest in the park. We have had Battle Galleons, Thirteen, Sub Terra (OK, I know!), Cbeebies land, Enchanted Village, Rollercoaster Restaurant, Sealife and are about to get SW8 (I do have concerns about that) and Cbeebies hotel.

    No other UK park, and certainly no Non Merlin UK park has seen anywhere near that level of investment during the period (with Thorpe running second). Look at how little PBB has been able to invest in their product (though admittedly Construction 18 looks great).

    Whilst I believe that they HAVE invested in new attractions, I do agree that they have FAILED miserably in investing in the upkeep of some of the attractions they already have.

    Merlin HAVE invested in AT and the signs are that they will continue to do so. Expansion of the Enchanted Village, and launch of the Cbeebies hotel will not see a return on investment if there are not genuine incentives to visit, and Merlin would not make this investment if they expect no bums on seats.

    Some of Merlin's The investments have been questionable. Thirteen?, I love it, but £15 million? Seriously!

    The Smiler - great coaster in many ways, but I agree, the build quality is poor for a top theme park and it is amazing that a 22 year old thrill coaster is so much smoother than a 3 year old thrill coaster.

    Don't get me started on NST which has been a wasted investment and Ice Age 4D which was poorly done in the first place.

    Cbeebies seemed a poor decision to me, but has probably drawn more visitors to the resort than anything else (and the lucrative kids market at that).

    THEY NEED TO ENSURE THAT EVERY £ INVESTED IN NEW ATTRACTIONS SHOWS IN THE FINISHED PRODUCT.

    I definitely agree about the entertainment. Step away from Cbeebies hand and Scare fest and it is non existent.The Pirate show, ATPP, Park keepers, invisible band, etc are sorely missed.

    Look, Merlin are a business. They are there to make money for their stakeholders. That is what ALL businesses do. They see entertaining guests and keeping them coming back for more, as a me and to that end.

    I miss the log flume like crazy, it was a great ride and the only reason it was not operating in 2016 was cost cutting. Same applies to Hex.

    The other closed rides were small fry in the scheme of things and I understand that cuts had to made, as much as we all hate that.

    AT need a business case to justify further investment. To do that you need to maximise turnover, profits and return relative to cost. I'm hoping that the pain this season will help them to get that in the medium term.

    So in a nutshell... I still love AT, I still think it is a great day out, I think that Merlin are the only reason that it is currently open, and I'm excited to see what the future brings...

    But... bring the gardens back to their former glory, give us a great family coaster in SW8, continue TLC EVERY year without making it out to be a big deal, make closure's of outdated attractions if necessary, but give us a year on year NET INCREASE in attractions, and deliver a new thrill coaster to be proud of with top build quality (B and M).

    Give us back some park entertainment too.

    I love our theme park. I'm proud of it, and I'm excited about its future. There has been cost cutting, poor investment decisions, a decline in upkeep and yet in spite of that there are so many things that make ST a great day out

    Sometimes, I think we forget that.
     
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  7. Leah

    Leah TowersStreet Member

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    While I know that it seems to be a particular age group that can make thorpe painful to visit on some days (hey, feel sorry for me, I have to go to school with this age group), it's worth mentioning that out of all the people I know of that age who said the smiler should be torn down and the park is a death trap, none had been to towers. If towers can get people in, maybe they will see the park in a more positive way and realise that it's not as dangerous as the media makes it out to be.
     
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  8. Martin

    Martin TowersStreet Member

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    How much did Merlin pay you for all that, Jesus Christ
     
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  9. MaxPower

    MaxPower TowersStreet Member

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    The way Alton Towers has been managed this year is nothing short of farcical.

    We all expected poor attendance figures this year, and that has proved to be the case, particularly in terms of the number of thrill seekers visiting the park. However, whilst the thrill seekers have shied away, the attendance figures for families with young children have remained quite strong (the CBeebies additions next year seem to suggest this).

    You would imagine that the boffins at Merlin with all of their market research and flow charts would have prediticted that the park would suffer in this way? I mean, it's not hard to imagine that a huge accident on the flagship thrill coaster would result in a drop in thrill seekers regardless of what the park did.

    So, why in this case, did they decide to invest in VR that was specifically targeted for thrill seekers whilst closing so many family attractions?! In my opinion, the logical thing would've been to try and entice more families back to the park, especially with the new CBeebies hotel being built next year. Instead, the park has managed to damaged it's own reputation and make these people less likely to visit.

    My feelings towards Merlin have remained unchanged over the past 4-5 years, having seen them destroy the once magnificent CWOA piece by piece and watched on as Alton Towers slips further into the abyss, it's pretty clear to me that they don't care about these parks, just the income they generate.
     
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  10. andeyhart

    andeyhart TowersStreet Member

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    Jokes aside, a lot of what he's saying makes sense. And to be fair, he's pretty critical of Merlin throughout his post.

    Towers is still a great day out for many, myself included. You can still feel that way yet dislike Merlin.
     
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  11. andeyhart

    andeyhart TowersStreet Member

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    Actually, I think targeting the thrill market was one of the better decisions Towers made this year. The thrill seeker demographic seemed, from what I saw, pretty healthy in 2016, in spite of the crash. The Smiler, despite everything, was probably the park's most popular attraction, with very few people appearing to be put off by what happened last year. In fact, many seemed to want to ride it solely because of the notoriety it achieved.

    I'd say it was families with smaller children that were most put off by the crash. Not that they'd ever have ridden The Smiler anyway, but the crash and its subsequent coverage in the media left them feeling the park was unsafe. It'd have made no difference if all the closed family attractions had been open this year; if they believed the park was fundamentally unsafe they simply wouldn't turn up. Even a new family based attraction would not have swayed these families from the belief that the park, since the crash, was now a deathtrap. It was the families who had no interest in riding the big rides, but weren't put off by the crash who were most disappointed by the closures of the likes of Hex, Charlie and so on. Yet I'd still say these families made up a smaller percentage of the park's total visitors than the thrill seekers (and by thrill seekers, I mean anyone with any desire, even a small desire, to ride at least one of the park's big coasters). So I can understand the decision not to target the family market, and to instead focus on the thrill market.
     
  12. CoasterCrazyChris

    CoasterCrazyChris TowersStreet Member

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    Problem is they don't learn their lessons when it comes to quieter investment years.

    It's almost always cheap faddy quick ROI type of additions (tat basically) that dates quickly and tarnishes the overall quality of the park and the brand in the long run.

    A decade or so ago it was "interactivity" with Duel, Splash Karts, Dung Heap, Haunted Hollow etc none of which anybody has ever praised after the hype has worn off and these days its "4D" and "virtual reality" .....or in other words anything but invest in quality theming upgrades to improve the park in the long run and everything to do with being able to put a glossy "killer" image up Facebook to attract the plebs.

    FFS.
     
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  13. Martin

    Martin TowersStreet Member

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    A lot of what he's saying also reads like it was written by Merlin. "We know we're not perfect but we're trying our best and where would you be without us". Urgh.

    And on to a rant.

    Disappointing how often it has to be said, but "Merlin are a business" is not a get out of jail card for being terrible. God, I hope you people making that shout don't have that attitude with your own jobs. Disney are a business. Phantasialand is a business. And Phantasia, as far as I can tell, are a much smaller business than Alton Towers, let alone Merlin. Christ, Mack is a business, they could get away with just a catalogue like all the other manufacturers, instead the have Europa Park, the world's most glorified showroom. What separates these companies from Merlin is they actually seem to care about the means, not just the end.

    Merlin's reply makes it clear how happily ignorant and uninterested they are of the competition, their customers and even their own properties. This is no way to run a business. Nor is their obsession with TripAdvisor scores. While I can understand their attitude in the UK to an extent, you would think with Heide park having to compete with Phantasia, Europa and now Hansa, they would go about business very differently. If Merlin want to justify their boasts they should be building something on the same level as Taron there, it's not as if they don't have the money for that to be the standards they set themselves. They just don't care. When Blackpool open their Mack in 18 months Merlin are going to be in for a shock, and as much as I'd like to hope it'll spur Merlin on, I doubt it will have any effect on them. If they think Heide Park is enough to compete with its neighbours they're hardly going to be concerned by the one major UK park they don't own. I honestly believe they treat customers with contempt, closing rides at Towers as 'TLC' and Loggers Leap at Thorpe being closed for another season, for 'redevelopment', what do they take people for? It's clearly dishonest, and of course businesses lie, but it doesn't mean it's ok. To me it just looks like incompetence, like they don't even know what to do with their own rides. They don't want to operate it, but have too much uncertainty to go through with actually removing it, perhaps (not incorrectly) believing that actually removing it would create a backlash if there's no replacement lined up. Surely if they had redevelopment plans that involve replacing it, they'd have removed it already and put signs up to create a buzz. If they had redevelopment plans that involve keeping the ride, they should have done it straight away. It just seems like they don't have a plan. Past experience tells us this is probably the case. I'm sure we all remember them trying to close Enterprise to build The Smiler, or trying to close Blade to build a ride that never even reached the application stage. Opportunistic at best, incompetent in the middle, at worst, both.

    On a different note, when Merlin do invest, I think one of the major issues is they put too much focus on, not necessarily a gimmick or lack of effort, but there's always a 'something' that is used as a focus, that they prioritise over more important things, takes away from the rest of the product, and can be used as a scapegoat. For example the fireworks this year. It's obvious there was a lot of thought and effort put in to the show, but the screen was badly executed, and it took away from the show. As good and unique an idea as it was, chances are it would have been better not being there and the money being spent in other ways. Like on more actual fireworks. Even more obviously is The Smiler's theming. While the Marmaliser thing is a centrepiece of the ride and forms not just a key part of the brand but actually adds to the ride, it seems to be a way to excuse the rest of the ride's theming/lack thereof. They obviously put quite a bit of effort in to designing it, but at the cost of bothering with the station building and the queue, which was clearly an afterthought. Add in the difficulties with the ride's construction (let's not go in to how every single project Merlin seem to undertake runs into issues) and it's a perfect way for them to try to excuse their laziness. As much as the Marmaliser adds to the experience of riding The Smiler, I'm sure as an overall package the ride would have been better if the money and time invested in it went on the queue and the interior and exterior of the building. But the thing is, when you're supposedly the leading theme park in the UK and have serious financial backing, it shouldn't have to be one or the other.

    Merlin are massively incompetent, arrogant, ignorant and greedy. Their attitude directly contributed to The Smiler accident and it'll continue to hurt them. It's not entirely an internal problem, being owned by venture capitalists of course means they have to squeeze out profits even more than they would otherwise, but when they do spend money, they seem hopeless at it. Towers and the other Merlin parks are likely going to continue to struggle, and the response is likely to be to continue making cuts, and it will harm the parks. Austerity Towers is not the way out of this, and I'm sure their precious KPIs will soon start to reflect this.
     
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  14. jon81uk

    jon81uk TowersStreet Member

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    Which is why you can now rent a tent for $650 in the magic kingdom.
    http://www.orlandoparksnews.com/2016/11/new-kingdom-cabanas-coming-to-magic.html
    Or have dessert on a boat while watching the parade
    http://www.orlandoparksnews.com/2016/11/tianas-riverboat-party-debuts-nov-29-at.html

    Or many other premium packages Disney have started offering recently while cutting staffing and operating many rides with reduced ride vehicles and throughputs to save cash.
     
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  15. Martin

    Martin TowersStreet Member

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    Of course. But the thing is, Disney HAVE a parade they can fleece people out of money to watch on a boat. Of course Disney are major capitalist ghouls, but they invest back into their product and treat it with care. Christ, they closed a ride in their least popular park to demolish its fibreglass rock theming and replace it with real rock, just because they could.
     
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  16. jon81uk

    jon81uk TowersStreet Member

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    But that's part of the reason why they are having to try and get guest spending up at the Florida and California parks, Paris is losing Disney a lot of money and they are having to try and put right years of neglect to try and get it up to a decent standard again. Same at Hong Kong. I think yes they treat some things with care, but overall I'm not sure they have any more respect for guests than Merlin. And the maintaining of theming at Paris was not great either, hence two years of TLC before the 25th anniversary and there is still more to be fixed.
    In Florida Avataris hugely over budget so there are more cuts and premium events to get revenue up to pay for Avatar.

    Similar themes to Merlin, just the base product is better to start with, so the cuts don't show as badly.
     
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  17. andeyhart

    andeyhart TowersStreet Member

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    I'm not denying any of this. My point was regarding this year. Despite being a thrill attraction, The Smiler's crash hasn't affected its popularity with thrill seekers, and they appear to be the demographic most willing to return to the park since the crash. Therefore, it made sense opening some type of thrill attraction instead of a family attraction in 2016. Would Galactica have been my choice? Certainly not - but that wasn't the issue being discussed.
     
    Last edited: 23rd Nov 2016
  18. andeyhart

    andeyhart TowersStreet Member

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    I couldn't agree more with this. Someone mentioned earlier how Merlin probably wish they'd never built The Smiler. To me, that's like a drunk driver blaming the car for the crash. Everything on that day can be linked back to Merlin.

    If there's one good thing that came out of June 2015, it's that Merlin's "woefully inadequate" (to quote the judge) safety procedures were brought to the forefront and forced to change. Had The Smiler incident never occurred, the park would still be operating under unsafe working practises, and in the long term I'd say that's a far more frightening prospect for the park then the one currently faced.
     
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  19. Altonadvocate1

    Altonadvocate1 TowersStreet Member

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    Unfortunately, nothing!

    The bribes department is undergoing TLC, and the and the forum advocate payment facility is under strict military lock down.

    None of the businesses you mention, make the guest experience the most important thing, though they may be better than Merlin at making you think that they do.

    Just like Merlin they have accountants, marketeers, trend analysts, PR people, focus groups, etc.

    Trust me, no business is altruistic. They are there to make money and have a responsibility to do this for every shareholder/ investor from billionaire Bob who already has more money than he knows what to do with, to Granny Smith who bought£10 in shares with her pension.

    Disney are the most ruthless, minimum wage paying, rule exploiting, lobby influencing, upsell driven, merchandising machine there is, but they sprinkle a little fairy dust and you use them as examples of how they care about guest experience. They are no different from Merlin.

    Business is tough, it's competitive, it's dog eat dog and the future will be written by the survivors.

    Customer satisfaction is a means to an end for ALL businesses. If they upset and lose all their customers, they are out of business. If they operate as an altruistic enterprise, spending more than they make and not ensuring a return on investment, they go bust.

    Successful businesses are a compromise between the two extremes. I could write a book on things that I don't like about Merlin (and every other company), but I'd rather have them, than the National Trust, or AT going out of business and becoming a private residence for Lord and Lady Moneybags..

    When it comes to wishing Merlin weren't in charge... YOU SHOULD BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR...

    As far as Disney goes, If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, it's usually because its fertilised by...
     
    Last edited: 23rd Nov 2016
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  20. Funcone

    Funcone TowersStreet Member

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    I definitely agree with the comments about Disney. You could write a book about their cost cutting measures, and My Magic Plus has had as much criticism from Disney fans as any of Merlin's policies.

    Disney have booths in their parks selling Time Shares. Disney have closed attractions (particularly in Epcot). If you buy an annual pass for Disney World you get no food and beverage discount unless you spend an extra $100 on an additional Tables in Wonderland card (these aren't exact figures, but they're roughly accurate). And even if you buy an annual pass with a Tables in Wonderland discount card on top, it only includes table service dining with blackout dates at popular times of year. And a few years back they cut the annual pass discount on merchandise from 20% to 10%. There are plenty of things that Disney do that would be hugely unpopular if you did them at Towers,

    I think there may be parks out there that are a labour of love as much as anything. I'm sure some of the people running parks are enthusiasts, and even in Merlin there certainly are managers who think like that. Whilst any business has to at least break even in the long term, there are particular parks that do seem to really put the guest experience first and I think Phantasialand is one of them. Europa Park's another. Holiday World in America also comes to mind. We're lucky that such places do exist. I remember seeing an interview with Dick Knoebels where he was asked if he'd ever get back the money he spent on the Flying Turns. He said he always knew he wouldn't, but was happy to lose money on it just for personal satisfaction. And I completely believe him. But Merlin's a very different kind of business to Knoebels, and is never going to knowingly build a ride that will lose money just for personal satisfaction.

    If you compare Merlin to the top independent parks around the world it's hard not to be disappointed, but if you compare them to the other major chains I don't think they're so bad. Still, there's a lot of things I'd love to see Merlin improve, which is why like a lot of other people on this forum I've been visiting more parks in mainland Europe and fewer parks over here.
     
    Last edited: 23rd Nov 2016
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