Escape Hunt is to open a further three sites in the coming weeks and expects to nine escape rooms trading by the end of the year.

The group commenced its UK roll out in March 2018, opening owner-operated sites in Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds. The company said site revenue to date was in line with expectations with EBITDA ahead of expectations.

The group signed a “milestone deal” earlier this year with BBC Worldwide to create “Doctor Who” branded escape rooms. Escape Hunt will be rolling them out across its network, with the first due to open in December 2018 in Bristol, following the autumn launch of the new Doctor Who television series, with the rest expected to open in the following two months.

The group this morning reported on its half-year ended 30 June in which it recorded revenue of £800,00 and an EBITDA loss of £1.38m, which it said was an expected consequence of building up the head office.

The company had 45 franchise sites at the end of last year. There were 43 at 30 June 2018 as three underperforming franchisees were closed and one new site opened. Four more sites have been contracted by master franchisees and are scheduled to open in the second half of the year to take the total to 47.

Chairman Richard Rose said: “The strategic change from a pure play franchise model to a hybrid model, involving the roll out of owner-operated sites, has made very significant strides. There have been challenges along the way, which is perhaps not unexpected given that Escape Hunt is a relatively early stage business, and that it is raising the barriers to entry in what has been a “Ma & Pa” industry. The management’s decision, post the acquisition, to rebrand the business and develop higher specification industry leading games came to fruition during the period. The objective is to provide a strong platform to differentiate the group from its competitors and to establish Escape Hunt as the premier brand in the rapidly evolving escape room sector.

“Whilst we have had challenges to overcome, both in obtaining planning permission for our new UK sites as well as putting together a reliable supply chain for games production, we have now made good progress in both securing sites and finding production partners.

“Since the agreement with the BBC, we are receiving much inbound interest from retail property operators, since experiential leisure is regarded as an attractive addition to the landscape to drive interest and footfall.

“Although still at an early stage of its journey, Escape Hunt is beginning to reap the rewards of the repositioning of the business. We are particularly proud that all of our newly opened UK sites are already ranked at #1 on the TripAdvisor scores for the “Fun & Games” sector in their respective cities. The Group is delighted to report that, relative to the number of rooms opened, sales at the new UK sites is in line with expectations and EBITDA is ahead of expectations on the same basis. The focus in the short term is to ensure that performance across all of the Group’s UK venues continues to show strong growth and also to ensure the smooth roll out of the remaining five sites this year. Together with the site at Bournemouth which was acquired in December 2017, Escape Hunt expects to have nine sites open by the end of this year.

“The Group’s premium games, coupled with the professionalism of the team, led to BBC Worldwide entering into an exclusive agreement with Escape Hunt to roll out and operate Doctor Who branded escape rooms over the next five years. Escape Hunt believes that the longer-term success of this industry, and the ability to achieve strong returns for stakeholders, is intertwined with the use of branded intellectual property. The business is greatly encouraged by the very positive response from the public to July’s Doctor Who announcement, which bodes well for future sales and occupancy levels at the venues.

“Management will concentrate on larger leisure/property partners for new franchising opportunities. They have the financial resources to develop multiple sites and support the production of more valuable games and higher marketing budgets.

“As mentioned in the July trading update the strategic work referred to above took time to complete but plans are now being executed at pace. Given the evidence of the newly opened sites, the Group is reassured that the resultant format is producing the desired customer response and financial result and I am confident that Escape Hunt is building the foundations for a successful, high quality business.”