In recovery? Naples Zoo crafted plan to survive the recession

— It was a good year for the Naples Zoo.

But so was last year, and the year before that.

In fact, zoo officials said despite an economic downturn and a dip in visitor numbers across Southwest Florida, the decades-old Naples attraction has experienced growing attendance numbers each year for more than a decade.

"We've gone up every year since the late 1990s," said Tim Tetzlaff, the director of communications at the Naples Zoo. "We doubled (attendance)."

More than 326,400 guests came through the gates in 2011, an 8.4 percent increase over 2010 attendance numbers. But 2010 was a record-breaking year in its own right: The zoo had 301,163 guests that year, up from the 293,179 visitors in 2009.

The zoo typically debuts new attractions in the late spring or summer. That gives permanent residents a chance to experience it first and boosts attendance numbers throughout the slower summer months. It also creates a buzz that continues through season.

"People know that when they come back there will be something new," Tetzlaff said.

Added in 2011 was the ability to feed giraffes.

The zoo in 2010 added seven giraffes. Those giraffes drew crowds throughout 2010, but Tetzlaff said the ability to get face-to-face and hand-feed the spotted creatures helped draw crowds in 2011.

"It's an incredible experience. I did it at other institutions, and wherever you do it, it's just the greatest thing," he said. "The fact that we can offer our families and visitors (the opportunity) thrills us and thrills them."

Tetzlaff said a popular YouTube video about African honey badgers also brought people through the gates this year. The zoo is one of four zoos across the country that has a honey badger exhibit, and Tetzlaff said the YouTube exposure "took an obscure animal and brought it to everyone's attention."

The zoo has yet to announce plans for the upcoming season, but Tetzlaff said he's hopeful the increased attendance numbers will continue.

Editor's note: Last day of a series.

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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