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A commercial approach to our zoo boosted admissions income by 90%

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The Arnold and Marjorie Ziff Tropical World at Roundhay Park is one of Leeds’ most popular family attractions, open since 1984.

  • Project: The Arnold and Marjorie Ziff Tropical World Development
  • Objectives: To encourage more visitors to the attraction and café along with enhancing visitor experience
  • Timescale: Reopened in March 2015
  • Cost to authority: £1.5m project budget
  • Number of staff working on project: 25
  • Outcomes: Visitor number up by 45%; admissions income up by 90%; 81.5% ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ on Trip Advisor; retail income up by 85%; café income up by 115%; spend per transaction in café up by 38%
  • Officer contact details: Mike Kinnaird

Decorative improvements have taken place over the years, but in 2013 Leeds City Council decided to develop a more ambitious project to enhance visitor experience, improve commercial performance and provide a sustainable approach to developing the attraction.

Lgc awards 2016

Lgc awards 2016

Shortlisted for the LGC Awards 2016

Sean flesher

Sean flesher

Sean Flesher

The project sought to increase the size of the retail facility and create a conservatory extension to the existing café, thus creating a link to the retail area. The aquariums were in need of refurbishment and a larger area was needed for the crocodile enclosure.

This is a good example of an enterprising approach by a local authority to improve a visitor attraction, which also included a commercial approach to conducting a marketing campaign. We established a small project team including key staff and a commercial partner to visualise and communicate ideas developed. The Ziff Family Trust made a generous donation, which we needed to supplement by borrowing. We developed a business case that considered future revenue streams by improving the attraction, along with expansion of retail and café space to fund borrowing.

Improvements include an enlarged retail facility, a new ‘walk-over’ crocodile enclosure, new aquariums, a children’s party/education zone and a conservatory extension to the café. The project also provided opportunity to replace the heating system, improving energy efficiency by introducing a biomass boiler on a spend-to-save funding model. This saved an estimated 328 tonnes of carbon each year.

Ahead of reopening the attraction, we undertook a review of entry charges comparing 10 regional attractions to ours. This revealed that Tropical World was £4.65 cheaper than the average for adults and £4.60 cheaper for children. We decided, therefore, to increase entry charges from £3.50 for adults to £5, with all other fees increasing by a modest amount. Despite this, the number of visitors has increased by over 45% compared to before we made our improvements to the attraction.

The increase in visitors is undoubtedly due to marketing effort and in particular using social media. We set up a Twitter account (@tropworldleeds) and Facebook page (TropicalworldLeeds) in 2013. These have more than 2,000 followers and 7,100 likes respectively. A Tropical World mascot was also introduced, ‘Mango the Meerkat’, proving very popular and makes regular appearances.

We closed the attraction to conduct the works from November 2014 and used this period as an opportunity to build up anticipation of the reopening in March. Ahead of the reopening itself we engaged the local press by inviting journalists to the opening, providing a press pack and giving them an exclusive guided tour led by the head animal keeper. It was a tremendous success with coverage on local television, radio, websites and in printed. Many of these media outlets, particularly the Yorkshire Evening Post, featured the story several times.

We conducted marketing campaigns in January and February 2016, as this was traditionally a time of year with fewer visitors. With a campaign investment of less than £9,000, we reached five million people and footfall during the campaign period increased by 155%, with income up by over £200,000.

Turnover is now over £2m with an additional positive revenue contribution of £713,000. Visitor numbers are up by 45%, admissions income is up by 90%, and 81.5% of Trip Advisor users rating us give us a score of ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’. Retail income is up by 85%, café income is up by 115%, and spend per transaction in café up by 38%.

Mike Kinnaird, development manager, Leeds City Council


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