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Audubon Zoo, Aquarium nominated by USA TODAY for 10Best Awards
Tourist-favorite attractions, Audubon Zoo and Audubon Aquarium for the Americas, have been nominated by USA TODAY for the 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards. This makes four years running for the New Orleans institutions to be nominated by an expert panel for the awards.
“We truly appreciate the outpouring of support that we have received through the Audubon Recovery Fund during this time,” said Audubon Nature Institute president and CEO Ron Forman in a statement. “Voting in the USA TODAY 10Best poll for the Audubon Zoo and Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is another great way that the community can show their support and help us receive national attention.”
In the 2019 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards, the aquarium ranked third and the zoo ranked ninth among 20 nominees.
The aquarium remains closed due to COVID-19. The zoo opened two weeks ago and welcomed 1,000-2,500 guests per day under the 25 percent capacity-limiting guidelines set by the state and city in Phase 1 of reopening. Zoo officials said they have just been able to increase the capacity limit to 50 percent under Phase 2 guidelines and anticipate a correlating increase in daily visitors.
“We are so pleased to welcome back families to Audubon Zoo,” said Rebecca Dietz, executive vice president of public affairs and general counsel of Audubon Nature Institute. “We’ve received overwhelming feedback from the community that they missed the zoo and are thankful to have a place to enjoy the outdoors and reconnect with the animals in our care. Our very first guest was a child celebrating her birthday and we’re so thankful to continue to be a place where cherished memories are made for families across the community.”
Dietz said the visitors from the past two weeks have been mainly from within Louisiana. Under normal circumstances, tourists account for 30-40 percent of zoo guests. The Institute’s downtown facilities are even more popular with tourists. The aquarium and the butterfly garden and insectarium welcome 60-70 percent of the Institute’s visitors.
The zoo is requiring advance online timed ticket purchases, or reservations for members. Dietz said they have experienced some sell-outs on the weekends, and recommends guests book on weekdays and later in the afternoon if they are able.
Audubon Institute plans to reopen Audubon Louisiana Nature Center trails on June 22. The planetarium and interpretive center will remain closed. They do not have an updated timeline for the reopening of the aquarium and the butterfly garden and insectarium at this time.
Earlier this month, Foreman said Audubon lost an estimated 44 percent of 2020’s self-generated operating revenue from the closures due to COVID-19, accounting for approximately $21 million. As a result, more than 500 employees were laid off or furloughed. The recognition the zoo and aquarium could receive through the USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards would shine a spotlight on these anchors in our local tourism industry.