Zoo Knoxville has had another record year of attendance. Zoo director Lisa New reports that 473,679 visitors came to the zoo in 2016 (up from last year’s record attendance of 441,116).
Some 58 percent (or 276,555) of those were out-of-town tourists, who contributed an estimate $34 million to the local economy (that figure is based on the state Department of Tourism’s formula of $124 per person/day expenditures).
Whatever formula you use, however, Zoo Knoxville is a major regional attraction, which impacts student education, rare animal conservation, and supports some 300 local jobs that depend on tourist spending. It is the No. 1 attraction in Knoxville and is ranked in the top 15 most-visited attractions in Tennessee.
The zoo recently opened its Tiger Forest exhibit, which gives the tigers room to roam, and it is actively planning an Asian Trek central campus replete with several feature trails.
Director New reports that the zoo is actively raising some $30 million in a 5-year campaign to support further feature development and expansion. Among other improvements, you can expect to see a new on-site restaurant, an otter habitat and a new reptile education/ adventure center, as well as gibbon trails and langur landing as part of the new campus exhibits.
The zoo is independently operated with its own staff and numerous part-time volunteers. It receives an operational funding from the city of Knoxville, and has requested a $1.3 million appropriation for 2017 operations.