New chief through the turnstiles at Dreamworld after lockdown and wet Easter take their toll

New chief through the turnstiles at Dreamworld after lockdown and wet Easter take their toll

Ardent Leisure's (ASX: ALG) new theme parks & attractions division CEO Greg Yong.

The top role at Dreamworld has been on high rotation in the aftermath of the 2016 Thunder River Rapids Ride (TRRR) tragedy, with parent company Ardent Leisure (ASX: ALG) today announcing the theme park fourth CEO since mid-2018.

Greg Yong, formerly of Village Roadshow and currently Ardent Leisure's chief operating officer, will head up the group's Theme Parks & Attractions division - which also includes Whitewater World and Sky Point - after John Osborne decided to step down for personal reasons.

Osborne had inherited leadership of a beleaguered business subjected to inquests over the 2016 disaster whereby "shoddy" record keeping and safety procedures led to the deaths of four people, prompting a $3.6 million fine for Ardent last year not to mention millions of losses from the reputational damage.

The group's theme parks CEO during the incident, Craig Davidson, stepped down in July 2018, with Nicole Nye as acting CEO until Osborne took on the challenge in November of that year.

The Ardent Leisure board believes there will be a seamless transition of leadership given Osborne and Yong have worked closely together on all aspects of the business over the past two years, while Osborne has agreed to consult to Ardent on several strategically important projects.

"Since John's appointment as chief executive officer of our Theme Parks and Attractions division in November 2018, he has overseen not only the resolution of the many legacy issues facing the business but also skillfully and expertly led the business through the significant challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic," says Ardent chair Dr Gary Weiss AM.

"During his tenure, John has built an outstanding leadership team and positioned the business to restore value for Ardent shareholders over the coming years.

"It has been both a privilege as well as a pleasure to have worked alongside John over the last two and a half years. He has been an exceptional and inspirational leader."

Osborne says he is incredibly proud of the fantastic leadership team that has been put in place over the last three years.

"Their commitment is unquestionable, and I cannot thank them enough for their hard work and the many personal sacrifices they have made to be part of the transformation of the business," he says.

"After leading the business through a very challenging and transformational phase over the past two and a half years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe it is an optimal time for me to hand the reins over to Greg so I can spend more time with my family."

Weiss adds the board fully understands Osborne's wish to spend more time with his family after such a tumultuous period.

The chair says he is delighted Yong accepted the offer to become chief executive.

"Greg has substantial experience in the theme parks industry in Australia and overseas and has played a critical role, as a key member of the leadership team, in restoring the performance of Dreamworld and SkyPoint," says Weiss. 

"We are confident that Greg will build on all that has been achieved in the business over the last few years."

Weiss' sentiments were echoed by the outgoing Dreamworld CEO.

"Greg is an outstanding executive and leader, and I know that he and the team will build on the platform we have put in place and ultimately restore Dreamworld to its rightful position as the best and most successful theme park in Australia," says Osborne.

"I look forward to assisting Greg and the Board on current and future projects and wish the broader Dreamworld, WhiteWater World and SkyPoint family, and the many friends I have made, all the very best."

Snap Easter lockdown in Brisbane took its toll in peak period

In a trading update today, Ardent notes its theme park division continues to be challenged by current trading conditions, with recent attendances impacted by the snap lockdown in Greater Brisbane just days before the Easter school holidays.

The company explains the ensuing border uncertainty was further exacerbated by extreme adverse weather conditions for the first week of the holidays, including over the Easter weekend.

However, trading performance was better in the second half of the holidays with an improvement in the weather.

The Steel Taipan rollercoaster project is also well underway with the erection of track having commenced this month.

"It is expected that conditions will remain challenging for the remainder of FY21 and the first half of FY22," says Osborne.

"We are optimistic about trading in the second half of FY22, driven by the expected opening of Steel Taipan and pent-up local and interstate demand though this is largely contingent on the Australian vaccine rollout, no COVID-19 outbreaks and resultant domestic border confidence."

Ardent adds the Easter Brickman 'Wonders of the World' activation was well received with guest sentiment and feedback exceeding expectations. This is consistent with the success of the company's activations strategy, as recently demonstrated with the 'Bluey Live Interactive Experience' and 'Monster Trucks'.

Current cash available to the Australian business is $18.8 million, while $5.3 million is drawn under the $63.7 million QTC loan facility. Further drawdowns will be made as the construction of the new coaster progresses.

The Steel Taipan rollercoast project is currently in construction and expected to come on-line in the second half of FY22 (Photo supplied).

Also on a positive note, Ardent Leisure's US cinema business Main Event has seen an uptick in activity.

While constant centre performance for reopened locations was down 21.5 per cent in February, including the impact of winter snow storms in Texas particularly, activity has been much better over the past two months, buoyed by vaccine rollout, favourable Covid-19 statistics, Federal stimulus payments to consumers and Main Event's continued commitment to the guest experience.

As cinemas were closed in the corresponding periods in 2020 due to COVID-19, Main Event is comparing its results to March and April of FY19.

"For the March 2021 fiscal period, constant centre performance was up 23 per cent reflecting good consumer demand during the strongest seasonal time of the year due to school Spring breaks," the company states.

"During the March 2021 period, Main Event generated the highest sales volume week ever, despite two of 44 centres remaining closed due to Covid-19.

"The April 2021 fiscal period has maintained this strong momentum, with constant centre revenue up 44 per cent for the first 19 days of the period."

The US business has available cash levels of US$75 million while the revolving line of credit remains fully drawn at US$25 million.

"Current trading conditions should not be taken as a guide to future performance. We are unable to predict the length and extent of the strong constant centre revenue growth since March, however, we are optimistic that consumer demand will remain robust as long as the United States does not suffer any setbacks in case counts or vaccine efficacy," says Main Event president and chief executive officer Chris Morris. 

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