Chester Zoo sees revenues rise 13% to £57.4m

Visitor numbers at Chester Zoo are almost back to pre-COVID levels with the attraction welcoming more than 1.9m visitors in 2023 and seeing revenues rise 13% to £57.4m. Tony McDonough reports

Chester Zoo
A tiger at Chester Zoo, one of more than 31,000 animals at the attraction. Picture by Chester Zoo


Chester Zoo has significantly raised its capital expenditure as its recovery from the COVID pandemic gathers pace.

In its accounts for the 12 months to December 31, 2023, just filed on Companies House, the zoo welcomed around 1.98m visitors. This is 7% higher than 2022 but still just shy of the 2m reported for 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.

After COVID hit in early 2020 the zoo was forced to close for three months and activities were disrupted for a significant length of time afterwards. In 2020 the zoo lost £10m and launched a Save Our Zoo public appeal to help meet its monthly running costs of £1.6m.

Four years on and the zoo has now put those dark days behind it. Revenues for the 12-month period were £57.4m, 13% higher than 2022. However, it is reporting a deficit of £323,000 against a surplus of £1.4m in 2022 due to higher running costs and inflation.

Chester Zoo is run by a registered charity called the North of England Zoological Society. It is home to more than 31,000 individual animals across 567 species as well as around 2,500 plant species.

It is consistently one of the most popular paid-for tourist attractions in the UK. And the zoo is also renowned for its conservation work around the world. In 2023 it spent £21.3m on multiple projects as well as a further £4.1m on educational programmes.

Financial recovery has also meant staff numbers have continued to rise once again. During COVID headcount dropped almost under 500. In 2023 the zoo employed 661 people, a rise of 53 on 2022.

There was a big increase in capital expenditure in 2023 as the zoo continued to invest in the estate, located close to Upton Village. During the year £21.2m was spent, up from just £6.4m in the previous year.

Work started during the year on its new Heart of Africa Zone which is due to open in 2025. Chester Zoo also spent £1m on buying a 70-acre farm adjacent to the site.

2023 also saw the opening of a new wedding venue on the site called The Square. Cash was also invested in a new Conservation Education Hub and a snow leopard habitat which opened this spring.

Chester Zoo Enterprises, a division which runs the food and beverage outlets across the zoo estate, contributed £16.4m in 2023, up from £14m in 2022.

Although overall visitors numbers did rise the numbers turning up and paying on the day did fall slightly during the year. The zoo blamed poor weather and increased competition during holiday periods for the fall.

This was offset by increased visits by members, of which there are almost 150,000, and more people attending special events such as Lanterns and Light. Membership revenue for the year was £12.3m, up from £10.8m in 2022. Net borrowings stood at £6.9m.


Chester Zoo
Chester Zoo has opened a new snow leopard habitat this year. Picture by Chester Zoo
Chester Zoo
Cloud rats at Chester Zoo. Picture by Chester Zoo


In the last few days the zoo has announced the closure of its aquarium, which dates back to 1952. This is home to seahorses, brittle stars, blind fish, pipefish, anemone and clownfish.

It will close in 2026 with the zoo saying in a letter to members that the collection will be relocated to other aquatic habitats throughout the zoo.

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In the annual report, Chester Zoo chief executive Jamie Christon and chair of trustees Malcolm Ardron, write: “The six ambitious and exciting targets in our Conservation Plan are now aligned with our plans to develop our Chester site.

“Both plans are supported by an achievable, robust and resourced organisational plan. Our trustees and leadership team are now focused on delivering these plans through to our centenary.”

They added the zoo had reached 77m people via social media during 2023 and generated 15,000 pieces of press coverage. The zoo, they added, was “robust and resilient”. 

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