Photographer: PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP/Getty Images

Dreamworld Owner Sees Park Deaths Impacting Profit for Years

  • Visitor numbers could be hurt until at least 2018: chairman
  • Shares in park operator Ardent claw back some of the 22% slump

Ardent Leisure Group Chairman Neil Balnaves said the financial impact of this week’s fatal accident at Dreamworld will be felt for at least two years as he defended the company’s safety record at the Australian theme park.

The water-ride tragedy at Dreamworld that killed four people on Tuesday will put off visitors until at least 2018, Balnaves told shareholders at Ardent’s annual general meeting in Sydney on Thursday. Chief Executive Officer Deborah Thomas said she expected a “significant impact” on earnings this year from lost ticket sales.

The Thunder River Rapids ride, where a raft collided with another and flipped over, had passed its annual mechanical and structural safety engineering inspection just four weeks earlier. The company called the accident an “isolated incident” and said Dreamworld will reopen on Saturday.

As Balnaves said he was “absolutely’’ confident Dreamworld was safe to reopen, Ardent shares climbed in Sydney, clawing back some of the 22 percent slump of the past two days. Almost 1.8 million people visited the Gold Coast park last financial year. It accounts for about 28 percent of Ardent’s total earnings, according to Morgans Financial Ltd.

Ardent shares were up 8 percent at A$2.16 at 3:12 p.m., valuing the company at A$1 billion ($763 million). 

‘All Shattered’

At an emotional press conference after the AGM, Balnaves said the board would have preferred not to hold the meeting but was obliged to by law. CEO Thomas declined to discuss the award of stock incentives to her valued at about A$840,000 that had been proposed moments earlier. That award is likely to be approved based on proxy votes submitted before Tuesday’s accident, the company said.

“Four people died, very recently, and we are all shattered by this,” she said. “This is not something that you deal with very easily so right now I do not want to discuss transactions.’’

At the press conference, Thomas said Ardent had been unable to contact one of the families of the victims. She then asked a reporter for the right phone number and made a personal pledge on live television to offer the family assistance.

‘I am a Mother’

“I am a mother, I have a family, I take my family to Dreamworld,” Thomas told reporters. “This could have been my family and I am completely sympathetic to what they must be going through.’’

Ardent’s biggest business is its 27 Main Event family-entertainment sites in the U.S., which offer activities such as bowling, laser-tag and virtual video games, according to its latest annual report. Shareholders also voted on Thursday on a plan to change Ardent’s name to Main Event Entertainment Ltd. Balnaves said that proposal will also probably pass.

Balnaves, who is retiring as chairman, declined a request from one shareholder to stay on to manage the fallout from the fatal incident. The Thunder River Rapids water ride will remain closed until a coroner’s inquest into the deaths has been completed.

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