Coronavirus: Dubbo's Taronga Western Plains Zoo 'inundated' with inquiries

Welcome: Dubbo MP Dugald Saunders, Taronga Western Plains Zoo director Steve Hinks and keeper Pascale Benoit in the lead-up to the June 1 reopening. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE
Welcome: Dubbo MP Dugald Saunders, Taronga Western Plains Zoo director Steve Hinks and keeper Pascale Benoit in the lead-up to the June 1 reopening. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

Taronga Western Plains Zoo will reopen to the public on June 1 as hopes grow the tourism industry can come back from coronavirus shutdowns and reemerge as a significant contributor to the Dubbo economy.

The city's premier tourist attraction outlined plans to reopen in "a controlled and responsible way" following advice from authorities after the COVID-19 pandemic caused it to temporarily close for more than two months.

Daily visitor numbers to the zoo will be capped to ensure social distancing and all guests will be required to pre-purchase tickets online for a specific date and time, among a raft of measures designed to keep guests, staff and animals safe.

The drawcard's reopening will coincide with the lifting of a ban on regional travel.

Zoo director Steve Hinks reported that before COVID-19 hit, tourism contributed more than $300 million to the Dubbo economy annually.

With restrictions easing in NSW, but an overseas travel ban remaining in place, he saw an opportunity.

"I think it's worth saying that domestic tourism in NSW stands on the precipice of a boom," Mr Hinks said.

"There really is the potential for us to see more visitors to regional NSW than ever before."

Previously the average stay for a visitor to regional NSW was two to three nights, but recent research showed people were now planning trips of one to two weeks," Mr Hinks said.

"And that is because interstate borders are uncertain in some areas, certainly international travel is less appealing and less available to people, so the possibility for a genuine, longer stay regional NSW holiday is something that's very appealing to people, and I think that gives us a great opportunity here in Dubbo to capitalise."

The zoo's overnight experiences, Zoofari Lodge and Savannah Cabins, will reopen on June 4. Mr Hinks said it had been "inundated with inquiries" since last week.

"Certainly we saw more than 100 inquiries within that first morning for accommodation, once that announcement was made," he said.

"So I think that absolutely backs up... that we are on the edge of a potential tourism boom here in regional NSW for domestic tourism."

The director said work had not stopped while the gates were shut.

"Our region has faced incredible hardship, uncertainty and stress in recent years," Mr Hinks said.

"We've dealt with severe drought followed by a global pandemic that has impacted our lives in ways we could never have imagined.

"During the temporary closure our team has been working hard to ensure our zoo remains at its absolute best, with keepers caring for over 700 animals and our works and trade team going above and beyond to maintain the grounds and animal habitats.

"This work means that we're ready to reopen safely and once again provide memorable and unique family adventures on our 300-hectare site."

Dubbo MP Dugald Saunders said the zoo's reopening was great news for the region.

"Tourism makes a significant contribution to the Dubbo region of over $300 million annually, and the zoo as our major attraction is a very big part of that," Mr Saunders said.

He said with the travel ban lifting an "influx of people" was expected, and they were looking to get people back into the region, "enjoying what we have to offer".

"Beautiful wide open spaces and of course the beautiful animals like the giraffes we have here with us today," he said.

The reopening would drive business across the tourism, retail and hospitality sectors, the MP said.

This story 'Potential boom': Zoo 'inundated' with inquiries ahead of reopening first appeared on Daily Liberal.