OTTAWA (June 5, 2020) –
Madame, Mr. Chair thank you for the opportunity today.
These are difficult times on everyone, we are all feeling some form of pain. I can only imagine the challenges faced by those making what amount to life and possible death decisions. We wish only the best for everyone; we are all in this together.
I am here before you today representing Canada’s thirty accredited zoos and aquariums, eleven of which are located here in my home province of Ontario. Many may not know zoos and aquariums can be accredited, our accreditation program draws from resources from around the world. Accredited zoos and aquariums adhere to the highest standards of animal care and operational processes.
As you well know, normal operations are closed. Yes, beginning next week three accredited members of CAZA will offer drive-thru safari experiences. However, this not the same as being fully opened.
Seven of our members are private operators, four have some form of attachment to either the government of Ontario or a municipality. Collectively, at peak season they will employ over 3000 people earning more than $80M in labour income. Over 3M visitors will visit an accredited zoo and/or aquarium, many of whom come from out of town. In the case of the Toronto Zoo, 47% of their 1.2M visitors are from outside the GTA.
At the Riverview Park and Zoo 80% of the 250,000 visitors each year come from outside the City and County of Peterborough. This alone has a $1M direct economic impact.
With a population of 5400 in Cochrane, the Polar Bear Habitat has an estimated economic impact of $2.3M dollars alone.
At African Lion Safari in Cambridge, it has an annual economic impact of $50M.
The economic impact of our eleven Ontario accredited zoos and aquariums easily surpasses $200M.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut off the revenue tap.
Our members understand the severity of this virus, its ease of transmission, and the importance of getting it right the first time. A relapse would be devastating.
That is why on May 1st we at CAZA convened our first industry-wide re-opening meeting, the purpose of which was to gather data, share best practices, and learn what each other was doing to develop re-opening plans. All 30 of our members were represented, at that time we knew Assiniboine Pak Zoo in Winnipeg would open on May 13th. They were given the green light from the Manitoba health authority to open earlier, however, they needed time to refine their plan. They knew they needed to get it right.
On the May long weekend, they welcome 7000 visitors over the course of 3 days. A success.
What does re-opening look like? How have our members adapted to the new reality of business in a pandemic? What is the visitor experience like?
Its been three and a half weeks since Assiniboine Park Zoo opened in Winnipeg, two since the Calgary Zoo opened and almost three since the Toronto Zoo was able to get approval for a drive-thru experience. Vancouver, Kamloops have also opened.
What we know is our industry preparations have met, and in some case exceed, health officials’ expectations.
More of our accredited zoos and aquariums are making use of online timed ticketing – you arrive during a scheduled period. Calgary will ask you both online and upon arrival in your car a few health questions ensuring you are not showing signs of the CORONA virus. The use of cash may be discouraged.
When you walk into the facility you will walk-in following directional signage, additional signage will stress the need for physical distancing, the wearing of masks is promoted, washroom doors may be taken off and staff may limit the number of persons in the washrooms.
Hand sanitizer stations are positioned throughout the facility, you may encounter “ambassadors’ whose main job is to ensure everyone respects the health protocols.
Restaurants may be closed, areas where normally large gatherings might take place will be sectioned off and additional fencing may be used to increase the distance between the animals and visitors. You may also see markings where visitors are not permitted to cross.
You will likely see greater use of personal protective equipment by staff. Continuous deep cleaning of areas with higher traffic and possible touchpoints.
In addition, the maximum allowable visitors are normally cut in half. Where a facility could handle 8000 visitors per day, that daily maximum is now 4000.
At Ripley’s Aquarium, their plan has many of these concepts. Reduced volume, online ticketing, health questions, social distancing, and one-way markings.
Each facility in Canada that has opened or will open, has benefited from our CAZA committee on re-opening. The information sharing is in everyone’s best interest, from it we have developed a document that contains essential elements from each plan.
The physical space is unique, the desire to open and open right is consistent with each one of our accredited members.
Our members know they need to earn government and health authority trust, we also know it’s just as important to earn the public’s trust.
That is why since early May we have shared member re-opening plans with the Ministry of Sport, Tourism, and Cultural Industries. Just this week, we shared the Ripley’s Aquarium plan and the drafted aquarium re-opening protocol for the BC Government prepared by our member, the Vancouver Aquarium.
I have participated in numerous media opportunities to communicate it is safe, Ontario accredited zoos and aquariums are ready.
What our eleven accredited zoos and aquariums in Ontario need is the green light from the provincial government they can open, give us a date from which our members will take their time like Assiniboine Park Zoo did and perfect their plans before they open.
We can do it right, smart, and with all the necessary health protocols.