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Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!: Aquariums and Zoos trends from A to Z

Caroline Wu
Sep 1, 2023
Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!: Aquariums and Zoos trends from A to Z

As the school year comes back to full swing, we take a look at some summer favorites:  zoos and aquariums. We explored 25 zoos and 15 aquariums across the country to look at visitation trends and visitor demographics, household makeup, and visit frequency.

Zoos saw some of their peak visits over the winter holiday, the first two weeks of April--likely coinciding with spring break, Memorial Weekend, and the July 4th holiday. Aquariums saw similar upticks during school holidays or holiday weekends.

San Diego Zoo was the top-most visited zoo, followed by two Midwest ones in St. Louis and Omaha. The Georgia Aquarium was number one among aquariums, followed by Monterey Bay and Shedd.

Zoos and Aquariums Top 10 8.31.23

Compared to last year, traffic to zoos was up April - July, with May showing a +16% YoY increase.  Aquariums were up +6% YoY in June, and flat in July.

Among the top three zoos, San Diego with its warm winter weather, saw a massive spike over the Christmas holiday.  For St. Louis Zoo, Memorial Weekend proved most attractive, and for Henry Doorly Zoo, it was the July 4th weekend.

So who’s most likely to visit zoos?  Per Experian Mosaic, it’s none other than Singles and Starters - young singles starting out and some starter families living a city lifestyle.  Next up are Booming with Confidence - prosperous, established couples in their peak earning years living in suburban homes.

Experian Mosaic for Zoos 8.31.23

The potential market of visitors to San Diego Zoo has the highest median HHI, at $80.4K. Households visiting San Diego Zoo are also likely to have more persons per household than the other two zoos at 2.7 for San Diego, 2.4 for St. Louis Zoo, and 2.51 for Henry Doorly Zoo.

Zoos Audience Overview SD STL OM 8.31.23

The visitors to Henry Doorly Zoo are the most loyal, with nearly 1 in 4 visiting 2+ times in the past year.

Both San Diego Zoo and St. Louis Zoo draw from a similarly sized population of about 1.7M, but given the density of the San Diego area, the trade area consists of 185 square miles compared to St. Louis’ 420 square miles.

San Diego Zoo and STL Zoo trade area 8.31.23

San Diego Zoo visitors tend to come from closer-in locations to the zoo, as shown in the darker blue areas below.

San Diego Zoo map trade area 8.31.23

Meanwhile, St. Louis Zoo visitors travel from farther, on average.

St. Louis Zoo map trade area 8.31.23

Compared to other family favorites - amusement parks - zoos have been holding their own quite well compared to last year, with attendance mostly up YoY the past six months.  Aquariums saw a YoY spike in Jan 2023, though this may be due to comparison to Jan 22’s omicron variant, which put a damper on many indoor activities such as aquarium-going.

Good news too for aquariums compared to pre-Covid - traffic to these 15 aquariums is up all months on a year-over-four-year basis. It has been more of a mixed bag for zoos.

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Caroline Wu

Director of Research,

Caroline brings expertise in retail, CRE, entertainment, media, CPG, and tourism, and specializes in synthesizing broad datasets into actionable recommendations for growth. She has worked as the US Director of Consumer Insights at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, VP of Retail Insights and Intelligence at Omnicom, and Senior Director at Kantar. Caroline holds an MA in Sociology from Stanford University and a BA in International Relations from Stanford University.

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