Nick Varney

As Chief Executive of Merlin Entertainments Group, Nick Varney is at the heart of a global portfolio of the world’s best known theme parks and leisure brands including Alton Towers, Madame Tussauds and the London Eye.

After studying Economics and Government at the London School of Economics, Nick started out as a junior marketer in 1984 at Rowntree Mackintosh before progressing to senior roles, culminating in his position as Marketing Director at Alton Towers in 1990.

By 1999, Nick had established Merlin Entertainments Group (Merlin), the company he and his team founded from the management buy-out of Vardon Attractions, where he had been Managing Director from 1995 to 1998. 

Merlin is the second largest leisure group in the world and operates 98 attractions, eight hotels and three holiday villages in 22 different countries across four continents and in 2012, it attracted 54 million visitors and employed 21,000 members of staff.

On Merlin’s success, Nick said: “We are continuing development of our existing estates by always putting in new rides or attractions. We are very much focused on giving people a reason to visit us, we aim to give people a compelling proposition that they can understand in one hit.”

“With our Midway attractions – SEA LIFE, Madame Tussauds, the Eye brand and so on – we are rolling out seven or eight of these a year. That’s a difference between us and other operators.”

The award of Honorary Doctor of Staffordshire University is bestowed upon Nick in recognition of his considerable business success on a global scale, notably as Chief Executive of the world’s second largest leisure group Merlin. It also recognises the personal and pivotal role he has played in Staffordshire’s best known tourist attraction Alton Towers.

Nick Varney was bestowed the award in 2013
I am deeply flattered and honoured to receive the award from Staffordshire University.

Nick Varney

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