Merger plans for theme parks
Private equity firm Blackstone is weighing up a merger which could bring together some of the biggest visitor attractions in the UK and the US, it has been reported.
Blackstone is the majority owner of Merlin Entertainments, which boasts favourites such as Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and the London Dungeons in its portfolio.
But it is considering a tie-up with US firm Busch Entertainments, owner of nine US attractions including Florida's SeaWorld, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
Blackstone has spied the opportunity because Busch's owner, Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch, is being taken over by Stella Artois firm InBev in a 52 billion US dollar (£26.3 billion) deal.
Belgian-based InBev is said to be planning to sell the theme parks - worth up to 4.5 billion US dollars (£2.3 billion) - on completion of the deal.
The private equity firm could merge the business with Merlin or Universal Orlando - a rival US operator in which it has also invested - if it is successful, the newspaper said. Blackstone was unavailable for comment. The combined company would be big enough to join the FTSE 100 Index.
Blackstone bought Merlin for £102 million in 2005. Its other attractions include Legoland, Chessington World of Adventures, the London Eye and Madame Tussauds.
It became the second biggest visitor attraction operator in the world behind Disney after paying £1.03 billion to Tussauds Group's owner Dubai International Capital, as well as providing DIC with a 20% stake in the combined company.
The firm has 13,000 staff worldwide. Its portfolio of more than 50 attractions and four hotels welcome more than 30 million visitors a year.