Merlin sales boosted by sunshine and Legoland demand

LONDON (Reuters) - Merlin Entertainments (MERL.L), the British operator of attractions including Madame Tussauds waxworks and London Eye, posted a rise in first quarter revenue helped by good weather in Europe and continued strong trade at its U.S. Legoland Parks.

The world's No.2 operator of visitor attractions behind Walt Disney (DIS.N) said on Thursday underlying sales rose 3.3 percent in the 18 weeks to May 2 and by 6.5 percent at constant currency when including contributions from new openings.

The group's Legoland Parks have enjoyed strong trade in particular over the past year, helped by promotional activity around "The Lego Movie".

"Merlin has had a satisfactory start to 2015," Group Chief Executive Nick Varney said. "We are positive on the outlook for the remainder of the year."

Merlin has ambitious expansion plans, with new Legoland Parks to open in Dubai, Japan and Korea by 2017 as well as short-stay sites such as Dungeons, Sea Life Centres and Shrek-themed attractions. Those openings will be overseen by a new management team unveiled on Wednesday.

Merlin aims to generate a third of its revenue from each of Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific in future, versus over 60 percent coming from Britain and continental Europe currently.

Shares in the firm closed at 453.2 pence on Wednesday, up 28 percent on a year ago, valuing the group at 4.6 billion pounds ($7.25 billion).

(Reporting by Neil Maidment; Editing by Karolin Schaps)