Cover Story - July 2017

1707_granby_introHow the Zoo de Granby combines a zoo, a water park, and an amusement park to create one powerhouse attraction

by James Careless

700,000: That’s approximately the number of people who visit the Zoo de Granby (Granby Zoo) each year. That’s more than 10 times the population of Granby, Quebec (an hour’s drive east of Montreal), where the 60-acre facility—operated by the nonprofit Granby Zoological Society—is located.

So how does a small municipal zoo founded in 1953 become such a major attraction? The short answer is innovation and expansion: As times have changed, the Zoo de Granby has changed with them, most notably by adding an amusement park and water park to create the ultimate hybrid attraction location. Yet even while adding traditional amusement elements, the Zoo de Granby remains true to its zoological mission. The result is a small city zoo that is anything but small time. 

1707_granby_giraffe

 From 2009–2016, Zoo de Granby’s season-pass sales rose by 400 percent. (CREDIT: Zoo de Granby)

“With more than 1,500 animals in naturalistic settings, the Zoo de Granby generates C$24 million in sales each year,” says Samuel Grenier, the zoo’s guest services director. “In turn, this multiplies into C$50 million in annual economic benefits to the Granby region,”

The Zoo de Granby is also an important local source of jobs. “Thanks to our winter operations, plus the need to tend the animals, we have 100 full-time staff,” Grenier says. “This number swells to 720 employees during the busy summer months, where many of our staff are students. It is worth noting that 42 percent of these students have been with us for three years or more, while 20 percent have been with us for five years or more.”

Finally, there’s the bottom line: Between 2009 and 2016, the Zoo de Granby season-pass sales increased by 400 percent, while the total dollars spent by each visitor during that same time period went up 39 percent. Park attendance is up 10 percent, too, while the degree of surveyed guest satisfaction has increased 5 percent. 

Clearly, the staff at the Zoo de Granby know what it’s doing. Now, here’s how they do it.

1707_granby_trip_sidebar

Humble Beginnings

The Zoo de Granby began with the animal-loving efforts of Pierre-Horace Boivin, Granby’s mayor from 1939 to1964. In 1944, Boivin convinced three friends to give him land on Granby’s Bourget Street to set up the Zoo de Granby under his direct leadership. Due to the mayor’s habit of asking his hosts for animals to add to his collection when traveling, Boivin’s zoo soon outgrew its first home, and ran into money problems to boot.

Relief came in 1953, with the formation of the Granby Zoological Society to take the zoo off Mayor Boivin’s hands, and a 60-acre site to provide a spacious home for the animals he’d collected. From here, the present Zoo de Granby began to take shape. 

Beyond the Zoo

Today’s Zoo de Granby has more than 1,500 animals, including elephants, giraffes, hippos, lions, the Przewalski’s horse (the breed from which modern horses evolved), tigers, and zebras. They live in outdoor enclosures landscaped to match their natural environments, with access to spacious indoor enclosures for protection from frigid Canadian winters, The site also has a petting zoo where children can get close to smaller breeds of animals.

The Zoo de Granby’s proximity to Montreal and upstate Vermont makes it a popular destination for visitors from both areas, plus the rest of Quebec, Ontario, and the northeastern United States. Still, even the best of zoos can only bring in so many animal lovers and hold their attention for only so long. This is why the Zoo de Granby also has its own amusement park (opened in 1972) and water park (opened in 1999) to substantially expand its attractiveness to the public. Entrance to these two parks is included in the zoo’s general admission ticket rates.

1707_granby_waterslide

 To the zoo, adding rides and a water park were a part of adding value for guests—just like adding new shops or restaurants. (CREDIT: Zoo de Granby)

“For us, the water park and rides park added over the years represent the addition of new complementary services to the animal park in the same way as adding a new restaurant or shop to any other tourist [attraction],” says Grenier. “Therefore, these parks are not considered as separate attractions inside a zoo, but rather as an enhanced offer for visitors who can enjoy not only animals, but also water pools and rides.”

Recently re-themed to feature popular cartoon characters Johnny Test, the Zelfs, the Shopkins, the Trashpacks, SuperWings, and Dinofroz, the Zoo de Granby amusement park offers a dozen rides with wide appeal. They range from bumper cars, a carousel, and a Ferris wheel to the “Python Panic” roller coaster and “Kimbunga” pirogue swinging pirate ship. Add the usual gmidway games, and the amusement park has lots to keep visitors busy once they’ve satiated their interest in the animals.

The Zoo de Granby’s Amazoo Water Park (so named because it is themed after an Amazon village) offers fast-moving “Amazonian” water slides, the “Adventure River” lazy river, the “Yalaka” wave pool, the “Hurakan” storm pool, and the “Booshikë Basin” wet/dry play structure. In addition, the water park offers the “Captain Dragon,” where a giant foam cannon creates a sweet-scented bubble bath experience for everyone to play in.

New for 2017 is the Zoo de Granby’s “Dinozoo” exhibit. At a cost of nearly C$1 million, the zoo is adding 21 animatronic life-sized specimens of the world’s most popular dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops. 

“These amazing dino recreations look as real as our live animals,” says Grenier. “They move and turn, open their jaws and roar when they see you coming. You’ll think you have time-traveled back to Jurassic times—but you won’t be at risk of being eaten.”

The different attractions fall under the same management, and fulfill the zoo’s mission of creating animal conservation awareness. Certain activities, of course, require specific staff, like lifeguards at the water park and animal keepers at the zoo, but all work with the same human resources, finance, construction, maintenance, and marketing teams. All attractions are included in the price of one ticket, with the exception of a few pay-as-you-go rides in the amusement park.

1707_granby_staff_sidebarMarketing and promotion is the same for all three attractions—though the park focuses on promoting new items, it makes sure to refer to all three in advertisements. “These three pillars are the strength of our product,” says Grenier. “Although the majority of visitors visit the zoo in the first place to see the animals and to be in contact with them, the combined offer of the water park and the rides park, for a unique price, sets us apart from the competition, and it also has an important impact on visitor satisfaction.”

The Zoo de Granby’s willingness to constantly add more value for visitors explains how the facility has managed to boost its attendance to record levels. Higher attendance pays the bills for these substantial extras. So does the boost in food, beverage, and retail sales these extras help drive. The reason: “The addition of the amusement and water parks has vastly increased the time guests spend at the Zoo de Granby,” says Grenier, as back in the days when the facility was just a zoo, the average visitor spent about three hours at the facility. “Now, with the addition of the amusement and water parks, we have seen the average stay increase to seven hours. Add the fact that we are licensed to sell alcohol, and the Zoo de Granby’s sales revenues have more than paid the cost for our expansions—and then some.” 

This is why it makes sense for the zoo to add the “Dinozoo” exhibit this summer, he says, giving visitors yet another reason to come here and stay even longer.

1707_granby_arcadeA Year-Round Destination

 Zoo de Granby has a 42 percent student staff retention rate because management prioritizes providing a good working environment, competitive pay, and training. (CREDIT: Zoo de Granby)

Adding attractions is one way to boost attendance and revenue generation for the zoo. Making the existing attractions boost the bottom line is also effective.

The Zoo de Granby is as adept at applying this second money-making approach as it is the first. Specifically, the zoo has found ways to earn more money from its existing attractions by using them as the basis of new revenue-earning programs.

Since 2008, the Zoo de Granby has rented out its facilities during off-hours for paid group visits. Staged either in the hour before the zoo opens or for three hours after it closes, these group events encompass corporate meetings, private parties, and weddings.

“Thanks to offerings such as our all-you-can-eat private barbeques, the zoo’s group visits have been a real money-maker,” says Grenier. “We earned more than C$1.6 million through group visits in 2016 alone. Not only does this money help pay for the zoo, but it also employs two full-time sales people and 50 catering part-timers. Meanwhile, our guests love having their events here and having access to the facilities just for themselves. It’s a real win-win for everyone.” 

1707_granby_weather_sidebarDuring the school year, the Zoo de Granby plays host to educational school visits, which bring more than 40,000 paying students each year. And when summer arrives, the zoo offers a unique day-camp program, which sells out each year. The zoo has a healthy corporate sponsorship program, as well. 

On top of all this, the Zoo de Granby has found a way to profit from the usual zoo-closing curse of frozen Canadian winters. Since cold-weather animals such as the Amur tigers, snow leopards, Japanese macaque, and wallabies all enjoy a sunny, snowy day, the zoo opens its facilities during the winter months to paying guests.

“We promote our winter program using the motto, ’90 percent of the animals at 50 percent of the summer rate,’” says Grenier. “It gets us visitors during the winter, making the Zoo de Granby a year-round destination.”

Looking Ahead

With 64 successful years to its credit, the Zoo de Granby is looking ahead to the future. “We want to adopt new technologies that improve and automate the admission process, and support cashless sales in our facility—especially in the water park,” Grenier says. “We also want to add new attractions that keep our clients interested, while continuing to improve the care and diversity of our animal collection.

 Zoo de Granby’s diverse offerings make the attraction essentially weatherproof. (CREDIT: Zoo de Granby)

“It’s been an exciting 64 years so far,” he adds. “But the Zoo de Granby isn’t looking back. We’re always looking ahead.”

1707_granby_suds