Thursday, April 18

NC Zoo Council Approves Price Increase

A ticket line at the North American Entrance of the North Carolina Zoo (Scott Pelkey / North State Journal)
A ticket line at the North American Entrance of the North Carolina Zoo (Scott Pelkey / North State Journal)

ASHEBORO N.C. – The NC Zoo Council voted this week to approve an increase in the cost of admission to the North Carolina Zoo, which could start as soon as next month.

The N.C. Zoo Council, a 15-member board appointed by the governor to oversee the operation and development of the Zoo held a planned virtual meeting on February 8th, 2023. In that meeting the group voted to approve an increase in ticket prices as well as other changes.

Council members listened to N.C. Zoo Director Pat Simmions as she presented the Zoo’s 2023 Fee Proposal.

“Zoo’s funding comes 50% from the State with the other 50% from gate ticket sales,” said Simmons. Going on to explain that the cost of running the Zoo has gone up over the years but revenue from ticket sales has not grown to match. 

The North Carolina Zoo last increased the gate price in 2015, from $12 to where prices sit now at $15. A price increase from $15 to $17 was considered in 2020, which the council voted to approve, but the pandemic delayed that action.

Council members had floated the idea of implementing surge pricing, where ticket prices would increase with demand, but the Zoo rejected that idea as their current software and point of sales system are not able to handle it. However, Zoo officials are looking into an upgrade in the future and the idea may come back around at a future meeting. 

Other ideas from council members included higher prices for out-of-state guests and discounts for in-state guests. 

The North Carolina Zoo’s proposal which was approved increases the in-person ticket prices by $5, from $15 to $20 for adult admission and recommends a new seasonal rate to accommodate for the fact that many African animals are off habitat, or have access to their night quarters, during the colder winter months.

Zoo Council Chairman Walker Moffit pointed out that the new higher price brings the Zoo’s ticket price more in-line with other local attractions like the Greensboro Science Center whose ticket price is currently $19.50.

To incentivize online sales, which currently tracks at around 21% of sales, the Zoo proposed a lower fee for online ticket sales.

New this year is a proposal to offer a highly discounted rate for holders of EBT cards (electronic benefit cards, also known as food-stamps). 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 (extended up to six people with the EBT card holder). This aligns with the Zoo and DNCR’s mission to remove barriers for access and Inclusion.

The Zoo is also requesting a fee increase for its ropes course, Air Hike. With the increase in wages for seasonal staff, the Zoo is recommending an increase from $15 to $18 to offset the increase in staff wages. No price increases were proposed for other attractions were announced.

At the Zoo on Thursday a reporter with Randolph News Now spoke with several guests and most expressed displeasure if prices were to go up. “The price of everything is going up, so I guess you have to expect it,” said the father or a family visiting from out of state. One local guest said that he found it strange the Zoo was citing a deficit when it had just raised $100 million for Asia and said that he thought Zoo prices should be lower since visiting the Zoo is already a gamble between the weather, exhibits being closed, and getting to see the animal you want.

The approved proposal now goes to the NC Dept of Natural and Cultural Resources which oversees the Zoo for a final decision. If approved, the Zoo says it would be ideal for the rate increase to be in place by March 15, 2023, for the start of the peak season.