Closings and delays

NC Zoo wants to reach 1 million visitors; planning new marketing campaign

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ASHEBORO, N.C. -- Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists go to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. But state tourism officials say Gov. Pat McCrory thinks the zoo has more potential.

“A goal of his as governor is that he would like to see a million people here,” explained Tammy O’Kelley, chairperson of the NC Travel and Tourism Board.

This past fiscal year, the zoo counted more than 755,000 people at its exhibits, an increase from the typical yearly average. The goal of a million may finally be in reach after voters approved the Connect NC Bond in March.

“Part of having the zoo included in the bond was to give it the things to make people come and consider the zoo and come back here that hadn't been for a while,” O’Kelley said.

The $25 million from the bond will go to much needed maintenance and new attractions. This frees up money for a massive marketing campaign, highlighting the zoo’s often unknown claim to fame.

“The North Carolina Zoo is the world's largest zoo, so it's important to North Carolina because there's a distinction that no one else can say about their zoo, we're the only ones that can say that,” O’Kelley said.

“We’re increasing our online social media presence to appeal to a broader audience and we are talking more about our annual stories and conservation initiatives,” said Diane Villa, the curator of design for the zoo.

A new Asia exhibit is expected to open in 2020, but before then, zoo officials are working on new experiences like a kids rope course, glamping and a sky lift.

“This a new day for the zoo and it's a new investment in this attraction and I think it's already bringing new changes and it's going to be good not just for Randolph County, not just for Asheboro, but this is good for North Carolina,” O’Kelley said.