LEISURE attractions giant Merlin Entertainments has warned there is “material uncertainty” over its future after the coronavirus crisis closed almost all its attractions around the world.

The Poole-based company said interest in its attractions could remain weak even when they are allowed to reopen.

Merlin – the second biggest operator of visitor attractions in the world – was bought last year by a private equity consortium that includes the Danish family which founded Lego.

The company, based in West Street, operates attractions such as the Legoland theme parks, Alton Towers and Madame Tussauds (pictured), employing around 28,000 people at peak season.

Announcing its report and accounts for 2019, Merlin said around 80 per cent of staff had been put on furlough, while seasonal recruitment had been cut.

Spending on marketing and advertising had been cut to “near zero”.

Its announcement said: “Although a small number of our attractions have now reopened in China, we cannot predict when each of our attractions will be allowed to reopen and remain open.

“Moreover, even when they do reopen, social distancing and other policies to slow the further spread of the disease may impact the operation and consumer appeal of our attractions.

“Even once these policies are lifted, interest in visiting our attractions may remain weak for a significant length of time and we cannot predict if and when each of our brands will return to pre-outbreak demand or ticket pricing.”

It said the impact of the pandemic on the business would depend on a host of factors. “There are no comparable recent events that provide us with guidance, and so we cannot currently estimate this with any certainty nor can we provide any assurance that Covid -19 will not continue to have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations,” it said.

“There is material uncertainty on our ability to continue as a going concern,” it added.

“It is currently very difficult to assess how the COVID-19 situation will evolve. If one or more of our assumptions in making our assessment to report as a going concern are found to be incorrect, we may be unable to continue as a going concern.”

The businesses had accessed government benefits of around £10m a month in qualifying jurisdictions and business rates relief of around £2m.

The opening of Legoland New York has been delayed until 2021 and planned capital expenditure has been cut by 40 per cent. However, the business still faced costs of around £50m a month.

Merlin reported that revenue in 2019 was up five per cent year-on-year to £1,740m, but pre-tax profits fell 50 per cent to £133m. Operating expenses rose 28 per cent to £78m, driven by exceptional items including the cost of last year’s acquisition.