ASHEBORO — The NC Zoo Council voted this month to recommend ticket price increases while also proposing seasonal rates.
The council, a 15-member advisory group appointed by the governor, can make recommendations to the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, which has final authority.
The Zoo Council met virtually on Feb. 8 and voted unanimously to add $5 to ticket prices while also agreeing to two-level pricing — for peak season, from mid-March to mid-November, and low season, from mid-November to mid-March.
Pat Simmons, executive director of the zoo, explained that ticket prices have remained unchanged since April 2015. She said the zoo’s admission prices are low compared to other attractions in the state, including the Greensboro Science Center, which charges $19.50.
Schedule of proposed fees
FOR PEAK SEASON — $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and military, $16 for children 3 and up; free for children 2 and under.
FOR LOW SEASON — $16 for adults, $14 for senior/military and $12 for children over the age of 2. Zoo member guests would pay $13 for adults, $11 for seniors and $9 for children.
Admission for Zoo/NC Aquarium members continues to be free. Adult guests of members would be charged $17, senior guests would pay $15 and a child guest would be $13.
NEW EBT RATE — New this year is a proposal to offer a deeply discounted rate for holders of EBT cards (electronic benefit card). This will make it easier for economically disadvantaged populations to enjoy a day at the zoo for a flat, year-round rate of $5 per person, limited to six persons.
CHEAPER ONLINE TICKET PURCHASES — Simmons told the council that the zoo staff wants to encourage online ticket purchases by giving discounts of $2 per category. Group rates for 15-plus knock off another $3 per ticket for each category.
EBT would remain $5 year-round, regardless of on-site or online purchase.
The reasoning behind discounts for online purchases, Simmons said, is to shorten lines at the ticket counters. Those with online tickets can avoid waiting in line.
Why ticket increases?
While the State of North Carolina appropriates operating costs each year, the zoo depends on gate receipts for about half the cost of running the facility. Simmons said that without raises in ticket prices, the zoo could end the year with a $2 million deficit.
“We see major price increases everywhere,” she said. “We must be more aggressive while keeping prices low. We’ll come back before Asia opens and look at it differently with more information, to go a different route or stay the same.”
The Asia Region, now under construction, is expected to open in 2026. The NC Legislature has already appropriated $75 million for Asia and Australia, which should be online a few years after Asia opens.
Simmons was asked if the staff had considered charging more for out-of-state visitors, since North Carolina heavily subsidizes the zoo. She said, “That’s a really good suggestion,” and that the administration would look into the matter and come back with information for the council to consider.
Walker Moffitt of Asheboro, the Zoo Council chair, commented on raising ticket prices: “The North Carolina Zoo has historically been a bargain. The rate increase is so insignificant, it’s likely it’ll have no effect (on visitorship).
“The costs are still there,” he said of operating the zoo. “If this is not passed, it’s likely we’ll have a $2 million shortfall. We would do well to help ourselves.”
With that, a motion was made and seconded to recommend the ticket price increases. Each member present voted in favor.
Some NC Zoo updates
Simmons then gave updates on the zoo, including attendance for fiscal year 2021-22 breaking the million mark for the first time. She said the zoo has a $30 million economic impact on the region.
BABOON EXHIBIT — Looking ahead, she said the new baboon exhibit will open in May.
25TH ANNIVERSARY — In 2024, the zoo will be celebrating its 25th anniversary with various events, including a new carousel to replace the current one which has been used for decades.
KIDS ANIMAL CONTACT AREA — At some point, the zoo plans to open a kids animal contact area, introduce Humboldt penguins and eventually build a new aviary.
GORILLA EXHIBIT — The gorilla exhibit is undergoing a $280,000 renovation, which should be completed in April.
DOG SHOWS THIS SUMMER — From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Simmons said, the zoo will host Canine Champions for Conservation. Dog shows will be held twice daily on Tuesdays through Fridays and three shows on Saturdays and Sundays.
DRONE DELIVERIES — Simmons said the zoo is partnering with the NC Department of Transportation to deliver hay via drone, inside the Watani Grasslands. That should encourage animals to forage for food.
ELECTRIC BUSES — The zoo has ordered two electric buses, which will avoid the use of some 2,300 gallons of diesel fuel annually, saving $10,000.
STEM EDUCATION — The zoo has received a $1 million grant from the Glaxo Smith Kline Foundation for STEM education in both English and Spanish.