The effects of coronavirus are taking a toll on popular Auckland tourist attraction Kelly Tarlton's, according to its global manager, and its distinctive shark bus is up for sale.
Merlin Entertainments (New Zealand), which manages Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium, said the business had taken advantage of the Government's wage subsidy scheme but was cutting staff and marketing costs.
Work and Income shows Auckland Aquarium got $367,000 for 64 employees initially, then the wage subsidy extension of $162,900 for 38 employees.
Merlin's accounts filed with the NZ Companies Office late last month showed the business made a gross profit of $9.1 million for the 52 weeks to December 28, 2019, up on the previous $8.8m.
But that was before the pandemic hit and the accounts note material uncertainty, casting doubt on the Group's ability to continue on a going concern basis.
"The impact of Covid-19 on the group's trading is continually being assessed and subject to rapid change," notes to the accounts said, although Merlin had put in writing it would support the group for the next 12 months.
The distinctive promotional shark bus is for sale, listed as "a really jawsome opportunity to sink your teeth into".
Daniel Henderson, Kelly Tarlton's general manager, said today: "There are no plans to sell or permanently close SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium. Like many businesses in New Zealand, Covid-19 has had a profound impact but we have a recovery plan in place and look forward to continuing our founder Kelly Tarlton's legacy to inspire people to love the ocean and all of its inhabitants for years to come."
Kelly Tarlton's shut on March 23 and did not re-open until May 14, the accounts noted.
The accounts said wages and salaries at the tourist attraction were a significant element to the group's cost base, including the cost of employing casual staff at peak periods. Recruitment of casual staff is being stopped for the foreseeable future.
Where possible, staffing levels and the hours operated are being reduced.
"The group has also received wage subsidy from the Government to offset costs that continue to be incurred," the statement said.
Kelly Tarlton's was also taking advantage of the Government tax relief, it said.
In this first-half year, the business would normally be spending money on marketing like TV advertising "to drive school holiday peak trading". But that has been either delayed or cancelled. Other expenses have also been cut "where possible" the accounts said.
Auditors KPMG drew attention to "material uncertainty related to going concern". It cited a note in the accounts which it said "indicate a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the group's ability to continue as a going concern and therefore whether it will realise its assets and discharge its liabilities in the normal court of business."
The attraction at 23 Tamaki Dr was the brainchild of the late marine archaeologist and diver and was built in disused sewage storage tanks. The aquarium used a form of acrylic shaping which allowed curved tunnels for viewing instead of the flat panels which were more common at the time.
The business says it is one of Auckland's top tourist attractions and it has 20 different kinds of shark and a shark cage-diving experience.
Visitors who would rather stay dry can go behind the scenes to meet the sea turtles in the rehabilitation programme.
A colony of Antarctic Penguins and stingray are displayed as well.
In 2015, the business celebrated 30 years of operation. The doors opened to the public on January 25, 1985 and by 2015, an estimated 11.5 million visitors had walked through the underwater aquarium.
Merlin Entertainments says it is the world's second-largest visitor attraction operator with more than 130 attractions in 25 countries. It owns the London Eye, Alton Towers and Chessington Adventures.
The Kiwi attraction has had a number of owners over its years. In 2002, Village Roadshow entered into a deal to buy it from Tourism Holdings for $13m. THL said at the time it would use the proceeds of the sale to reduce debt.
The Kelly Tarlton's aquarium and Antarctic encounter then joined Village's portfolio of tourism attractions, including the Sydney Aquarium, Oceanworld Manly and Sea World Gold Coast.
Last October, the Overseas Investment Office granted consent for Denmark's Motion Acquisition to buy just under 1ha of land at 23 Tamaki Dr in Orakei from Merlin Entertainments for $23m.
That was part of Motion's takeover of Merlin and involved the Kelly Tarlton's tourist attraction because it is deemed to be sensitive land.