Zoo reports "massive" drop in visitors

A POPULAR East Anglian tourist attraction has announced a “massive” drop in visitor numbers, which it fears could delay vital improvement works.Family-owned Colchester Zoo has issued figures showing overall attendance for the financial year ending on October 31 2004 fell to 464,684 visitors compared to 547,495 the previous year – a fall of about 15%.

By Sharon Asplin

A POPULAR East Anglian tourist attraction has announced a “massive” drop in visitor numbers, which it fears could delay vital improvement works.

Family-owned Colchester Zoo has issued figures showing overall attendance for the financial year ending on October 31 2004 fell to 464,684 visitors compared to 547,495 the previous year – a fall of about 15%.

The zoo directors blame the general economy for the downturn and, to a lesser extent, the weather.


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Zoo director Dominique Tropeano said: “2003 was a particularly successful year for Colchester Zoo with the birth of our first baby elephant, Kito, and various enclosure developments.

“With a noticeably less buoyant economy we have seen a critical drop in attendance which could mean the delay of other new developments such as the Wilds of Asia complex for orang-utans (crrct) and a new enclosure for Komodo Dragons. These two enclosures are scheduled to cost at least £2.5 million.”

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The application for the orang-utans complex is currently before Colchester Borough Council while proposals for the Komodo Dragons are almost complete. Mr Tropeano said he needed to study the accounts to see whether he could still afford to do either or both.

“I do not think the downturn is a Colchester Zoo problem, it is a national one across the tourist industry and a combination of interest rates going up, petrol costs and to some extent the degree of bad weather. We certainly lost several days in August and that's an awful lot of visitors.”

Mr Tropeano said the zoo raised its tickets prices each year as it needed to pay its staff and reinvest but said the “fine balance” of pricing was something he would look at.

“I am not desperately worried in the sense of alarm bells ringing but 15% down is massive and we cannot be complacent.

“My long-term strategy is to improve the animal enclosures and I am sure we will see all projects involved come to fruition in the future. I just hope next year is a better year.”

This latest announcement follows just a week after official figures revealed the zoo had made pre-tax profits of more than £1million for the year ending October 31, 2003.

Colchester Zoo Limited, owned by the Tropeano family, saw its annual turnover break through the £6million barrier.

According to accounts lodged at Companies House, the zoo's balance sheet showed the family firm had a net worth of £4.8m, up 19% on the year before. Profit before taxation peaked at £1.1 million and the record year marked the 20th anniversary since the Tropeano family bought the zoo.

The family has also ploughed millions of pounds into new enclosures and promotes worldwide animal and environmental conservation campaigns.

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