18 February 2015, Written by Nick Nichols

INTERNATIONAL tourists have helped Dreamworld ride out a weak start to the year, but the theme park business still fell short of matching the solid first half earnings recorded in FY14.

Ardent Leisure (ASX: AAD), owner of Dreamworld, WhiteWater World and the Q1 Skywalk, managed to attract more than 100,000 visitors to its Gold Coast operations in the six months to the end of December. The problem, however, was that most of these tourists were watching their holiday budgets.

The theme parks drew 1.17 million visitors in the December half, up 10 per cent from 1.064 million a year earlier. Spending per capita fell to $46.49 from $52.37 this time last year, leading to a 1.8 per cent fall in total revenue to $54.78 million.

EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax depreciation and amortisation) was 1.2 per cent lower at $20.396 million.

Ardent Leisure managing director Greg Shaw says the results were credible in light of heavy rain in December, traditionally a dampener on the Gold Coast's theme park sector.

He says the resilience was aided by "progressive improvements" in international visitor numbers, particularly from Dreamworld's core offshore markets New Zealand and China.

"After a tough first quarter, when EBITDA was down 7.2 per cent, the second quarter saw an improvement in attendance trends from local and interstate markets," says Shaw.

"The SkyPoint Observation Deck business continued to perform well, with attendances up strongly with tourist traffic, growth in events and climb revenues."

Ardent does not break down figures for its Gold Coast businesses, but SkyPoint remains a small but growing component of the group's Gold Coast theme park operations.

Among the highlights for the December half is the operating margin, up marginally at 38.4 per cent from 38 per cent.

As for the current half year, Shaw says it has held up well despite continued wet weather affecting trading.

January's unaudited revenue of $12.9 million is down only marginally from $13 million recorded in January last year. However the unaudited EBITDA for the month is up 4.6 per cent.

Ardent says the lower Australian dollar and lower fuel prices are expected to boost domestic visitor numbers to its Gold Coast attractions during the current half, building on continued growth it is experiencing from international markets.

Dreamworld, named the best major tourist attraction for a second year running in the Queensland Tourism Awards, is launching its new V8 Supercars attraction in December. New attractions introduced in 2014 included the Tailspin thrill ride and the Triple Vortex water slide.

Ardent, which also operates d'Albora Marinas, the AMF bowling centres, Goodlife Health Clubs and the Main Event bowling business in the US, has recorded group revenue of $285.9 million, up 14.1 per cent from a year earlier.

Core earnings were down 3.8 per cent to $32.2 million, while the bottom line profit fell 16.4 per cent to $18.8 million.

Falls in both the theme park division and health clubs failed to be offset by healthy gains in its US operations.

However, unit holders have not been disappointed with Ardent paying 7c per security for the half year, up 2.9 per cent from the previous corresponding period.
Author: Nick Nichols





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