Chester Zoo recovery accelerates as revenues hit £50m

Annual revenues at Chester Zoo hit £50m with visitor numbers now close to the 2m-plus seen in 2019, the last year before COVID hit, its latest accounts reveal. Tony McDonough reports

Elephants at Chester Zoo. Picture by Chester Zoo


Chester Zoo is showing signs of a strong recovery from the dark days of COVID with 2022 revenues hitting £50.7m – higher than the £47.4m achieved in 2019.

In its accounts for the 12 months to December 31, 2022, filed on Companies House, the zoo said visitor numbers for the year totalled almost 1.9m. This is 15% higher than in 2021 when it was closed for three months at the start of the year due to lockdown.

At the height of the pandemic in 2020 Chester Zoo recorded a loss of £10m. In June 2020 the zoo was forced to launch a Save Our Zoo public appeal to help meet its monthly running costs of £1.6m. Visitor number numbers were just over 1.1m, well down on just over 2m in 2019.

In 2021, the zoo recorded a small surplus of £900,000 from revenues of £44.5m as its recovery from COVID gathered pace. This year its surplus is a healthier £1.4m and staff numbers have also recovered from 502 in 2020 to 608 in 2022.

Chief executive Jamie Christon said in the annual report: “We saw visitor numbers recover really well and 2020 and 2021 was a stronger year for the zoo.

“What COVID has taught us firstly is how resilient we are, how much support we have more visitors and members and also how we need to future-proof our zoo to be able to look for funding from new sources in case something a COVID ever happens again.”

Chester Zoo is run by a registered charity called the North of England Zoological Society. It is home to more than 140,000 individual animals across 567 species as well as around 2,500 plant species.

According to the most recent figures from Visit Britain (from 2021) the zoo is the second most popular paid-for tourist attraction in the UK, only beaten by the Royal Botanic Gardens.

As well as being a top tourist attraction the zoo is renowned for its conservation work both on site and around the world. In 2022 it spent £24.7m on conservation and educational projects. 

It runs or is a partner in 56 field projects in 19 countries and works with 62 partner organisations. As part of its conservation masterplan it aims to halt or reverse the decline to 200 threatened species of animals or plants by 2031.

Income from visitor admissions was £19.4m in 2022 with a further £14m coming from a subsidiary business that runs the zoo’s gift shop and multiple food and drink outlets across the site.

Other sources of income come from almost 138,000 paying members (up from just over 129,000 in 2019) as well as project grants and contributions, donations and legacies and Gift Aid contributions.

Capital expenditure in 2022 was £6.4m. This included the creation of a new wedding and events venue called The Square. Offering a capacity of 200 people, it is located in a Grade-II listed former stable block that was once home to  lions, bears and chimpanzees.

In 2025, Chester Zoo will offer a new attraction called the Heart of Africa Zone which will be home to around 50 endangered species.


Parson's chameleon
A Parson’s chameleon, one of 140,000 animals at Chester Zoo. Picture by Chester Zoo
The Square
The Square at Chester Zoo is a Grade II-listed stable block


Jamie Christon added: “We are very non-corporate which I love and we genuinely all work together as a team to deliver our mission. It’s an exciting job and I’m very honoured to lead the team.

“Apart from the obvious financial challenges of funding both the ambitious targets in the conservation master plan and the physical development of the zoo, I am acutely aware of the need to deliver a strategy that has a real impact in our mission of preventing extinction.

READ MORE: Chester Zoo secures £318,323 for ‘nature recovery’

“A strategy also needs careful planning but conservation needs change over time across regions of the world and time is running out to make that change. Having a strategy that is fluid is vitally important.

“I can honestly say I never woken up and not wanted to come to work in the 10 years I’ve been at the zoo. Each day is different.”

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