THE Dorset business that runs some of the world’s biggest visitor attractions wants them to reopen at the same time as non-essential shops.

Merlin Entertainments operates the likes of the Legoland theme parks, Alton Towers, Madame Tussauds and the Blackpool Tower, employing around 10,000 people directly.

The Poole-based company is urging the government to let it open its attractions “when the national lockdown ends and it is safe to do so”.

When the second lockdown finished before Christmas, indoor attractions had to stay closed and outdoor venues were limited in capacity, despite shops, gyms, hairdressers and garden centres being fully open in tier three areas.

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Merlin says those venues had hundreds of customers through their doors with no records kept, whereas its attractions sold all tickets in advance and took visitors’ contact details.

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Merlin also wants VAT for the tourism sector to be kept at five per cent rather, than returning to 20 per cent, and for the current business rates to be extended.

Merlin’s attractions have also employed temperature checks, social distancing and wearing of masks by staff and visitors.

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Mike Vallis, divisional director for Merlin Entertainments’ ‘Midway’ attractions – which include Sea Life, the London Eye and Madame Tussauds – said: “We are fully behind the national effort to overcome Covid-19 but as the government begins the review of lockdown and looks to reopen the economy, we are calling for visitor attractions to be treated the same as non-essential retail – and when they are allowed to reopen we should be able to open as well.

“Our guests have always been able to spend quality time and create lasting memories with their loved ones at our attractions and now, more than ever, Merlin has an important role to play in promoting the wellbeing of our visitors in a safe and low-risk environment.

“Our attractions can help promote healthier, happier and more connected communities, whilst addressing many of the most pressing health, social and environmental challenges we will face following the Covid-19 pandemic. We know it will be an invaluable benefit to these communities for us to reopen as soon as it’s safe to do so.

“Our attractions are fully Covid -secure and have a range of safety precautions in place, including pre-booking, temperature checks and social distancing throughout.

“We are also asking the government to keep the reduction in the VAT rate to five per cent and to extend the business rates holiday.”

Nationally, the tourism sector employs 3.2million people directly and 1.5m in the supply chain, accounting for 11 per cent of UK employment and six per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

It is a vital part of the UK’s economy, with revenues bigger than that of the pharmaceuticals, automotive and aeronautics industries combined.