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Visitor Bases and Economics for Rural Zoos

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Coelacanth18, 18 Dec 2023.

  1. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member 5+ year member

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    Through researching zoos in different countries, I've found that many European countries like France, the UK, and Italy tend to have few urban zoos, and the largest zoos are often located out in the countryside - sometimes seemingly in the middle of nowhere. This is in contrast to countries like the US and Germany, where (although there are a lot of rural wildparks and private zoos) the biggest and most well-known facilities are nearly all in larger cities.

    It makes sense that countries with mostly private zoos would also have those zoos in the countryside, but I've been wondering what visitor base these zoos pull from - especially when they aren't particularly near the biggest metro areas. Are zoos in countries like France and the UK primarily getting seasonal tourists? Or do people from nearby cities and towns simply flock to country zoos the way rural or suburban Americans and Germans flock to big city zoos? How can private zoos like these grow to such sizes with smaller (perhaps seasonal) visitor bases and no tax support?
     
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  2. NMM

    NMM Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    In the UK people would normally travel to their local zoo whether that be in a town/city or country regardless of whether they themselves live in a town or the country.

    Zoos in cities will sometimes also have a second larger zoo in the country. Examples are ZSL (Zoological Society of London with London Zoo and Whipsnade) or RZSS (Royal Zoological Society for Scotland) with Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park. Bristol Zoo also recently closed their inner city site and moved to a much larger site outside the city.

    Although a lot of zoos may be located in the countryside they are rarely completely in the middle of nowhere (Highland Wildlife Park might be a notable exception) and there will be several towns or cities within an hour or an hour and a half's drive.

    Tourism does come into it as well. You will find more zoos in tourist hotspots.
     
  3. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    Some of the older zoos in Germany used to be outside of the nearby cities in the back-then countryside. Up to the point that people back then complained how much of a burden it was to get there...Now, due to rapid urbanization, these very zoos are surrounded by their respective cities. Who knows - maybe the same will happen to some of the now "rural" zoos in the future?
    Tourists are one demographic said "rural" zoos attract, especially when close to popular touristic hotspots or busy highways. Furthermore, these zoos also get their share of locals (who might have few other cultural alternatives) and, via aggressive marketing in the city despite existing urban zoos, urbanites on weekend / holiday / family vacation trips [European Griswold family versions do exist ^^]
     
  4. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    At least in France, which has a lot of rural zoos and very few city zoos many visitors tend to be tourists and come in the holiday seasons. Many of those zoos close in winter and some even close on weekdays already in September. Some zoos are within 30-60 minutes from a big city so will attract a following from there too.

    They typically have far less visitors too even a famous zoo for us such as Doue tends to get 250.000-300.000 visitors per year. Like most other French rural zoos they don't have expensive animals such as elephants, great apes or pinnipeds. Bears, giraffes, gibbons, lemurs, big cats and penguins tend to be the star animals and most collections focus primarily on mammals. The enclosures are typically also low budget with little mock rock and often good use of the natural vegetation.

    A new trend for the bigger rural zoos is to offer overnight accomodation, especially in France these things pop up everywhere.
     
  5. Lafone

    Lafone Well-Known Member

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    To coin a cliche you have to also remember that the U.K. is not the largest country so even in rural locations zoos will be in travelling distance of local towns and villages (though not always by public transport).

    When you go to different zoos around the U.K. you usually hear the ‘local’ accent among most of visitors and staff which indicates the catchment area and the local nature of zoo visiting.

    Some people also have zoos in their family routine, for example ZSL Whipsnade a large zoo in a relatively rural location has a large number of families with membership who treat the zoo almost like going to the park and you see the same faces on weekends or grandparents etc in the week particularly off season. I was chatting to a couple of people I see all the time at the red pandas the other day.l for example.

    As NMM mentioned tourism also plays a big part particularly in zoos like London or a ‘famous’ zoo like London or Edinburgh. Indeed London is a tourism destination on the general visitor tick list which isn’t the same for most other zoos.
     
  6. Jana

    Jana Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    I can´t comment much on rural zoos in France or Italy.

    But if I look at successfull Czech zoos located relatively far from dense/populated core areas (Zlin and Dvur Kralove), they have huge free-of-charge parking lots. And this hints at most important attendance sources. First are families on day trips within driving distance (I often pay attention to car plates and I would guess they make 50% or slightly more). Second are weekend/weeklong tourists from more distant parts of the country (plus tourists from neighbouring states) who have accomodation nearby and the zoo is one stop on their itinerary.

    Large rural zoos have more seasonal atttendance pattern compared to city zoos here. 50% of income is earned within just 2 summer months. They tend to optimise visitor experience at that time - tones of seasonal staff, food stands everywhere, lush vegetation, less accessible heated pavilions. They prefer or specialise in large African mammal fauna. And they offer own accomodation (or plan to do so).
     
    Last edited: 19 Dec 2023
  7. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member 5+ year member

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    Having looked at some driving distances it did occur to me that maybe the catchment area for a lot of rural zoos in Europe was larger than it seemed, especially compared to the US where many rural areas are sparsely populated. A lack of big city zoos to compete for visitors also makes sense as a reason for people in towns and cities to look towards the countryside for zoos.

    That does beg the question also: can sizable country zoos operate in tandem with public zoos in nearby cities, or would it be too David vs Goliath if the private zoo doesn't find some kind of radically different niche (ex. safari park, etc).

    As for tourism: maybe this is also one that stumped me based on personal experiences. I know that a lot of European countries offer ample vacation time and that many people use this to travel to... vaguely the countryside, or the coast? Rural tourism exists in the US too, but it never strikes me as being that prevalent. I do know several French and British zoos are located near popular beach towns and the like, but there are a lot of others in France, Italy and the UK where I honestly couldn't tell you what out-of-area visitors would be there for.
     
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  8. Lafone

    Lafone Well-Known Member

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    Certainly in the UK people travel to rural areas without beaches for holidays (vacation time) there are national parks and areas to visit, old houses to see or theme parks or holiday home centres which are within reach of zoos or other attractions. People go to both the coast and the countryside and there are going to be a decent amount of zoos within reach of their holiday location. Big city activities are one thing, but a lot of people like to go out of the towns and spend time in the countryside.
     
  9. NMM

    NMM Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    Interesting question. From a UK perspective there are very few examples of city zoos with a large country zoo nearby. Bristol and Noah's Ark would have been an example. Now that Bristol are relocating to The Wild Place that does leave two reasonably sized zoos close to Bristol.

    There are several zoos close to London, but as the population of London is about 8 million (before taking into account satellite towns closer to the zoos) it can support multiple zoos anyway.

    The West Midlands urban conurbation does have two inner city zoos with Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park and Dudley Zoo.

    Maybe the fact that examples are few and far between answers the question.
     
  10. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    Rural tourism is very common, it is not spread evenly but especially in France and Italy there are loads of medieval/roman towns and castles, good food and wine. Depending on the region hiking/cycling is also a thing. These countries can also boast features that are unknown to foreigners such as the sun for the English or the concept of hills for the Dutch.

    For example the Loire Valley which is home to some good zoos like Doué and Beauval is principally known for the insane number of (touristy) castles.
     
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  11. Lafone

    Lafone Well-Known Member

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    I googled this 'sun' you mentioned...there's a big ball of flame in the sky? Freaky. Never seen it, hard to believe.
     
  12. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member 5+ year member

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    Or castles for the Americans :p as I didn't even remember Europe had a ton of them until you mentioned it!

    I suppose that is a good side point too; at least a few (maybe several) zoos in Europe are on the grounds of former castles and estates out in the countryside - a feature that is less common in some other regions.

    Maybe - although at least a couple of large privately operated zoos in the States are right next to big cities that also have large public zoos, so in my mind it seems variable.
     
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  13. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    Hey, man, we've got perfectly good castles in Anaheim and Orlando.
     
  14. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    Also good to remember that what is rural in Europe is almost always relatively close to a major city on an American scale. Pairi Daiza is in the middle of nowhere by Belgian standards, but is only a 1 hour drive from Brussels. It is hard to find big zoos that don't have a sizable metropolitan area closeby, of the 10 largest French cities only 4 have a city zoo (Lyon, Paris, Montpellier & Lille), but all 10 have a sizable zoo in the countryside or a close city. For example the French city of Nantes (the 6th largest in the country) doesn't have a city zoo, but there are 2 major zoos and 1 safaripark within a 1 hour drive. A 1 hour drive is considered relatively short for French people (though in the Netherlands we think that is a long drive as it gets you to the other side of the country :p).
     
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  15. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    It is worth to mention expensive cabins / chalets / hotels attached to rural zoos, often with windows giving beautiful views directly into exhibits.

    This type of attraction did not exist 20 years ago. When I visited Zoo Fleche, they were building chalets behind 4 or 5 big mammal exhibits. This is a sign of another change in society, with people having no time or money for any longer getaway, and instead doing something called euphemistically micro-adventure.

    I am quite curious about them. They are definitely becoming common and may be important for budgets of rural zoos.
     
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  16. Torgos

    Torgos Well-Known Member

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  17. StellarChaser

    StellarChaser Well-Known Member

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    In France even the castle itself can be the zoo, like Zoo de Besançon