Blackstone waxes profitable about Tussauds

Fresh from its $39 billion take-private of Equity Office Properties, Blackstone becomes the world’s second largest operator of tourist attractions and theme parks with a £1 billion deal to buy The Tussauds Group.

The Blackstone Group has bought The Tussauds Group from Dubai International Capital, in a £1 billion (€1.5 billion; $2.0 billion) deal.

The US buyout firm will combine the waxworks museums with Legoland theme parks, making it the world’s second largest owner of theme parks and tourist attractions.

DIC, which bought Tussauds two years ago for £800 million, is taking a 20 percent stake in the enlarged business.

The deal makes Blackstone second only in size to Walt Disney – the owners of Disneyland – in terms of theme park operators and paves the way for more acquisitions, particularly in the US.

In a thinly veiled defense of private equity in the face of attack from politicians and trade unions, Joseph Baratta, senior managing director at Blackstone said: “This situation is a perfect example of the benefits of private equity ownership. Both Merlin and The Tussauds Group have grown significantly as a result of the support of their private equity owners.”

Blackstone has made the acquisition through majority-owned Merlin Entertainments, a UK company it bought from Hermes Private Equity for £102.4 million, in May 2005. It subsequently grew the company by adding Legoland and Gardaland, Italy’s top theme park.

By combining Merlin with Tussauds, Blackstone is adding an array of top attractions to Merlin’s existing 38 sites in 11 countries.

Tussauds’ portfolio consists of the Madame Tussauds attraction in London’s West End, five further waxwork museums in New York, Amsterdam, Las Vegas, Shanghai and Hong Kong, as well as six other tourist attractions and theme parks mainly in the UK. Additional Tussauds museums are planned to open in Washington and Hollywood in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

Since buying Tussauds from Charterhouse Capital Partners, DIC has added to the group by buying the UK’s highest-visited tourist attraction The British Airways London Eye, located on the bank of the River Thames, as well as Warwick Castle and Heide Park in Germany.

The group also includes Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, and Chessington World of Adventures, three UK leisure parks.

Goldman Sachs, HVB and Lehman Brothers are providing Blackstone with the debt financing.