Cincinnati Zoo aims to thin crowds with timed tickets as Ohio gradually reopens

COVID-19 will change when zoo can admit guests
Posted at 11:29 AM, May 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-04 18:04:38-04

CINCINNATI — Although Cincinnati Zoo doesn’t have a reopening date confirmed, is has been been formulating plans for how the regional attraction will operate in the COVID-19 era.

And that plan includes smaller crowds with timed tickets.

“The plan is to let people pulse in, 250 people per half hour,” said Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard. “Though during the day you might have 3 or 4,000 people come, there probably wouldn’t be more than 2,000 people at a time at the zoo. With 80 acres 2,000 people spread out pretty well.”

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati 2018: Cincinnati Zoo's Thane Maynard to lead Chicken Dance
Cincinnati Zoo's Thane Maynard

Maynard is hoping the zoo can reopen by mid-June. That would give it a chance to reach 800,000 in annual attendance – down about a million from last year.

“Our town is not really a tourist region, but it is a major zoo region,” Maynard said. “We have a tremendously high number of zoo members from our region as well as visitors. We’re the biggest draw in Hamilton County and the biggest draw in the city now; so we look forward to when people can come back to the zoo.”

The zoo isn’t alone in navigating the new normal. All over the world, amusement parks, museums and other attractions are taking a variety of new approaches as they come back to life after coronavirus shutdowns. Most are starting with limiting crowd sizes as a way of promoting social distancing. Some are experimenting with mobile phone payment systems to avoid handling cash and credit cards or virtual queues that let you schedule in advance the time you enter popular rides.

Maynard said the zoo will discourage people from buying their tickets at the entry gate in favor of the approach that movie theaters and golf courses have taken for years. You buy a ticket online and show up at the time indicated.

“Initially, it will have some growing pains as people get used to it, particularly on really pretty days. But the word will get out more and more,” Maynard said. “We have everybody’s best interest at heart. Not just their safety that we don’t want everybody to squeeze together but also we don’t want everybody disappointed. You know, mom loads up a minivan and drives all the way in from Northern Kentucky and discovers she can’t get in. It’s much better to know what the lay of the land is ahead of time.”

In addition to timed tickets, the zoo is planning several other operational changes:

  • Staff and guests will be asked to wear masks.
  • Indoor exhibits like the reptile house won’t be open initially. Neither will indoor restaurants. But the zoo will have food trucks and concession stands open for guests who can order food and dine on site.
  • Zoo camps will be limited to 10 children at a time, while events will be downsized to keep guests at a safe distance.
  • Popular exhibits like the Gorilla Center and Fiona exhibit will be watched for spacing, with marks on the ground to guide people on where to stand.
  • Increased cleaning schedules will include disinfecting bathrooms more frequently and wiping down door handles and surfaces.

As for when the zoo will be back to normal, that remains a mystery.

“We’re going to have to see as that goes,” Maynard said. “The virus is in charge and we’re just following the wave.”