June 9, 2022

Are Higher Gas Prices Affecting Zoo Visitation?

Gas station sign listing the cost for gas to be an "arm", "leg", or "both"

By Hari Kunduru

Americans everywhere are feeling the pinch in their bank accounts after historically high gas prices hit consumers across the nation. What used to be a $40 fill up is now $70, and so far there’s no end in sight. For many Americans, it’s enough to rethink how we live our lives.

At Zoo Advisors, we’ve ramped up our business intelligence efforts to understand how modern market conditions are affecting the zoological profession. With gas prices increasing daily, we wanted to explore the impact on visitor behavior.

We investigated these questions:

  • How has visitor travel distance affected attendance to zoos historically, when gas prices were far lower?
  • Do varying gas prices have a statistically significant effect on top-line visitor attendance?
  • What are the key trends in both urban and suburban demographics across various radial distances from zoos?

Three findings stood out:

1)    People are now less willing to travel long distances to visit a zoo.

After analyzing data from Spring 2018 through May 2022, we estimate about 9% fewer visitors attended a zoo due to gas prices, inflation, and budgeting when travel distance to a zoo was greater than 30 miles. In most low-to-middle earning households, where median household incomes were less than $75,000 per year, gas prices seem to have had a direct impact on overall zoo visitor rates. Most zoos are community supported, covering maximum service areas of approximately 100 miles in their respective regions. When people from further away are less willing to visit, the size of the effective market region shrinks, resulting in decreasing top-line attendance.

2)    People are less willing to spend the time to commute.

Today, if a visitor’s travel time is greater than approximately 35 minutes, they are statistically less likely to visit a zoo as much. In 2018, the breaking point was approximately 50 minutes.

It’s said that time is money, and it appears that this saying is truer now than ever. Upon analyzing data from 2018 through 2022, we’ve observed that people are opting to spend less time commuting; including but not limited to time driving on the road, time walking to and from destinations, and more importantly, less time in traffic.

For urban zoos, it’s vital to consider transportation accessibility and to understand that our constituents’ lives are getting busier. That means the closer you are to the subway, the easier it’ll be to reach your organization…or the more centralized your location (i.e., Central Park Zoo), the higher walkability access will bring in more visitors.

For suburban organizations, quick access to your local interstate means more visitors can come to your zoo. An easy way for your zoo to attract visitors is to review local traffic patterns and optimize the road trip to your zoo on your website’s “Visit” page, thereby curating ‘suggested’ visitors’ journeys to create a road trip instead of the standard visit to a zoo.

3)    People who work from home are more likely to visit a zoo.

Workers who rely on public transportation to commute to work have lower visitation rates in urban environments than remote workers who have higher visitation rates to their local zoo. Is your zoo effectively marketing to both types of families? If not, you should consider running targeted campaigns to meet the needs of families that commute and those that don’t.

So, how did we calculate these findings?

  1. First, we divided the nation into three regions: East, Midwest, and Western.
  2. Next, we analyzed 15 zoos in both urban and suburban environments.
  3. Finally, we analyzed visitor data from 2018 through 2022, processing the datasets through artificial intelligence and regressions tests to identify trends.

Note: We also found these two trends worthy of sharing: The average household visitor’s income increased from approximately $45,000 in 2018 to approximately $60,000 in 2022; and the places that people visit before and after their trip to a zoo have remained consistent throughout these inflationary periods.

Stay tuned for another data insights article next week, utilizing Zoo Advisors’ Audience Analytics service. Have a topic you’d like us to explore? Drop us a line to let us know!

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