Endangered snow leopard cubs born in May and an octopus named Cora have already helped the Akron Zoo set a new attendance record.
Chances are good that the record annual attendance will continue to climb before year’s end, said David Barnhardt, director of marketing and guest services for the zoo.
On Wednesday, the 34-member Leadership Akron class visited the zoo’s snow leopard cubs and the Journey to the Reef exhibit featuring a giant Pacific octopus that opened in the Komodo Kingdom Education Center earlier this year.
“Part of our success here is reaching out to groups in the community like Leadership Akron and be able to showcase what the zoo is to them. Hopefully, they’ll come back and visit again,” Barnhardt said.
By the end of November, 329,060 visitors passed through the zoo gates.
With events including an annual Trunk Show from 4 to 7 p.m. today that features goods from local vendors and artists and the already sold-out Breakfast with Santa events, zoo officials are confident the overall attendance will top 330,000 for the first time.
The prior attendance record was set in 2008 when 328,953 visitors took in the sights including the popular Jellies: Rhythm in the Blue exhibit. The jellyfish were such a crowd-pleaser, the zoo incorporated some of the species into the Journey to the Reef exhibit that replaced it.
“We are very proud that we have been able to provide a place of enjoyment and education for so many people of our community,” said zoo President and CEO Patricia Simmons.
The zoo has won first-place honors as the top Summit County attraction for three consecutive years in the Akron Summit County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s annual Internet ballot contest, said Jim Mahon, director of marketing and communications for the local visitors bureau.
The zoo was named the Zenith Award winner in the Attractions and Point of Interest category from 2009 through 2011. In 2012, the zoo was the recipient of the Best Hospitality Web Site award, said Mahon.
The bureau sponsors the contest to recognize the best local organizations in the hospitality industry.
“We’d like to think it’s a fairly accurate account of the tourism industry,” Mahon said Wednesday.
The zoo’s outreach program, through social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and discussions with focus groups have also helped guide zoo officials.
“We have been listening and working hard to provide the kind of zoo our community wants to see and it is so rewarding to see the community responding to the efforts of our staff and volunteers,” said Simmons in a prepared statement.
Other community outreach programs include Dream Night for little patients at Akron Children’s Hospital, a free evening held each June for children suffering life-threatening illnesses and Backpack Adventure, in partnership with the Akron Public Schools, to provide backpacks full of school supplies for students in need.
The zoo was a destination for Arts and Culture Day for the Leadership Akron class Wednesday.
The members also visited the Akron Art Museum, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Weathervane Playhouse and the Northside art gallery district, said Leadership Akron Executive Director Mark Scheffler.
“The zoo is integral to the fabric of our community. It helps define Akron’s sense of place. Families love having this so close — you can come for an afternoon, see a few areas and keep coming back because it’s a great experience every time,” Scheffler said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.