Zealandia visitors up, revenue down

POPULAR: One of Zealandia's takahe.
POPULAR: One of Zealandia's takahe.

After slashing its entry prices, Zealandia's visitor numbers have soared and settled.

Last October, after struggling to attract people to the sanctuary and its new multimillion-dollar visitor centre, management reined in its ticket prices. Most dropped by about 40 per cent.

The weeks after the cuts resulted in a huge upswing in visitors, and this popularity held through the summer. The sanctuary got at least 30 per cent more paying visitors in the first three months of this year than it did for the corresponding period last year.

Membership also rose, with five people joining this year for every four in 2013, a report presented to Wellington City Council shows. However, the lowered prices meant Zealandia's revenue was down from last year, even though this quarter's target visitor numbers were beaten.

Wellington City Council environment committee chairwoman Iona Pannett saw making Zealandia self-sufficient as a "marathon, not a sprint".

The risk in dropping prices had always been that increased numbers might not cover the lost revenue.

But the positives of increased memberships, and more being spent at Rata Cafe and the visitor centre shop, indicated the sanctuary could one day survive without further ratepayer support, she said. "I'm confident they're heading in the right direction, but obviously it is a big challenge."

Zealandia chief executive Hilary Beaton said the better-than-expected admissions were a pleasant surprise, as lowering entry fees was a risky move.

"It was such a reduction in price that it was always going to impact. However, it hasn't had a negative impact. People are spending in other areas, like joining as members or making a donation."

The organisation planned to make up any shortfalls in revenue through fundraising drives and marketing partnerships with organisations like Wellington Zoo and Masterton's Pukaha Mt Bruce wildlife centre, she said.

The price change followed a second annual drop in total attendance, to 82,749 - less than half the target set for 2013, when the $16m visitor centre opened.

The Dominion Post