Light sculpture of a butterfly for the Haldenzauber light park in the city of Hückelhoven, Germany.
#Light Festivals    25/04/2019

Zoo Lights: the phenomenon that turns zoos – and other wildlife spaces! – into visitor attractions at night

We’ve written about the power of Light Parks as visitor attractions in the past, and today we want to focus on a particular type of Light Park: one that focuses on the natural world and in animals in particular.

We call these Zoo Lights, and it turns out that many Zoos use light trails at night to draw visitors – just take a look at how luminaries like the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC and Denver Zoo in Colorado, USA, Dublin Zoo in Ireland, and Melbourne Zoo in Australia turn their spaces into light-filled extravaganzas. They must have a good reason for filling their parks with light, so why do they do it?

Not just visitor attractions

Before we get into the reasons, it’s worth being clear that zoos aren’t simply places where animals are kept in captivity as attractions for visitors.

Modern zoos and wildlife tourism businesses often have proactive conservation efforts in place to protect and study wildlife so that future generations can continue to enjoy the diversity of species that we enjoy today. They also act as centers of education that raise awareness and teach people about wildlife and other nature-related aspects of their spaces.

This means that zoo have a number of challenges:

  • They need enough money and investment to pay for the welfare of the animals, and of the grounds, and of the employees, and for their involvement in research and development projects.
  • Whatever outreach or visitor marketing they do, they need to be aware of the welfare of the animals, and keep disturbances to a minimum.
  • Visitors expect more and more technological advances – like touchscreens with information about the animals – but budgets are spread fairly thinly and this isn’t always possible. Competing for visitor attention in a technological age isn’t always easy.
  • Depending on how they are funded, zoos need to be transparent about how they will be spending their budgets.

Generating revenue: not the only priority, but pretty important!

If you’re familiar with running a zoo or wildlife tourism space, you won’t be surprised to see that although generating revenue isn’t the only priority, it is vital.

Aside from state or government funding, local sponsors, grant money, and community donations, one way of generating income is through visitor admission or entry fees. With most zoos operating mainly during daylight hours (perhaps with a few night tours to view nocturnal creatures), visitor admissions are capped to some extent: no matter how much marketing you do, your zoo can only support a fixed number of visitors at any one time.

So – aside from opening more shops and restaurants for visitors in the space – how can zoos generate more revenue from visitors?

The answer is Zoo Lights

Or to be more specific, Light Parks and Light Trails in zoos and wildlife tourism areas.

We work with zoos and similar wildlife tourism organisations to help them create temporary visitor attractions in their spaces using light. The attraction is only open for a few weeks or months, and visitors pay a special entry fee to the unique experience after-dark (essential to make the most of the lights). It’s a simple but effective way to generate more revenue.

With sensitive design, good planning, and great marketing, a Zoo Lights event can:

  • help zoos raise their profile locally and attract visitors from further afield, which boosts revenues and visibility
  • give zoos a great platform to talk about important issues: conservation, education, up-coming events, sponsorship opportunities, and more
  • allow you to use an event to promote a specific issue – like species depletion and extinction – or to simply create a multi-sensory event for visitors to celebrate a secular event like Valentine’s Day
  • provide multiple opportunities throughout the year to create light events for different reasons: Halloween and Christmas are popular in many countries, but spring might be a great opportunity to celebrate new births in the park and educate visitors, too

The possibilities are almost endless – and of course, we have lots of good ideas if you’re interested in a brainstorming session!

Light Parks can have startling results

Light Parks yield extraordinary results: in the City of Koper (residents: 25,000), visitor numbers swelled to 350,000 thanks to the light experiences they created in their city and parks. On the site of an old mine dump in Hückelhoven , a Light Park attracted over 45,000 visitors over a 6 week period. And in South Korea’s Jeju Island, a day-time art park turned into a night-time destination thanks to the installation of an animal-inspired Light Park.

And these aren’t zoos. They don’t have the additional attraction of the animals, nor do they have a perfectly designed, contained area that they can use to host a light event and engage visitors.

Zoos, on the other hand, do.

A zoo already takes admission fees, has a wealth of on-site attractions, can offer visitors refreshments and souvenir shopping opportunities, and best of all, most zoos already have a place in the hearts of their community.

Now add occasional Zoo Lights events to attract more visitors: it’s a winning combination that helps zoos achieve their revenue and outreach goals AND that gives visitors a unique experience. Just imagine the difference that this could make to your zoo…

And Zoo Lights don’t just benefit zoos – they benefit cities, too!

Tip: if you’re thinking of other ways to make a Zoo Lights event possible, think about this. More visitors to a Zoo Lights event results in a natural knock-on effect in the nearest city or town, giving the local economy a boost thanks to increased visitor numbers. With this fun fact in mind, partnerships with a local municipality shouldn’t be overlooked.

What about cities with no zoos, who want to create a Zoo of Light in their spaces?

We’re glad you asked! In May, we’ll tell you all about how creating a Zoo of Light in a city or town can have positive effects all round. Watch this space, or get in touch and we’ll talk you through the details.

Find out more about how Zoo Lights can transform your zoo.

Get in touch to arrange a time to meet, talk, and uncover ways to help you attract more visitors and reach your goals. We’ve been helping customers use light to create extraordinary experiences for 23 years, and we’d love to help you, too.

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