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One of our associates in our rural property management team, Ginny Banham, based in our Doncaster office, was recently invited to host a RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) podcast. On the podcast, she discovered that there is even more to the life of a surveyor, especially when you work in a specialist market such as the visitor attraction sector.
Ginny, who won the RICS Matrics Surveyor of the Year Award 2023, met with guests Richard Baldwin, a chartered valuer and Director of Leisure at Avison Young and Richard Morris, a chartered building surveyor and Director of PROPERTYSURV LTD, to shine a light on leisure assets, with a particular nod to zoos and safari parks and found out what unusual assets the guests have encountered during their surveying careers.  Both have had careers working in specialist markets which include a range of animal-based attractions and specialist markets in the leisure sector.
On the podcast, Ginny questions how COVID-19 impacted the leisure industry causing safari parks and zoos to close and how socio-economic and political factors such as inflation, and the rise in food and energy costs continue to impact them today. They discuss the businesses which survived and explore how they reviewed their assets and looked at ways of providing a new immersive experience for the visitors and how animal attractions could no longer be the sole revenue provider.
They also explore how rural business owners had to look at the value of their assets and consider the sustainability of their business long-term which, in some cases, meant they had to consider diversifying away from the core trading to broaden the appeal to a larger demographic of more discerning visitors. Pre-COVID-19 businesses were reliant on people visiting the primary attraction but have since had to explore add-ons such as a restaurant, an arena and luxury accommodation as drivers for secondary spending to make the business more sustainable for the future. 
Safari parks have had to become more of a destination which can often include shopping, an adventure play area, entertainment, and seasonal attractions such as Christmas light displays to provide an all-year-round source of income. Ginny queries how the design of the park must work around the animals as well as the humans, so it is crucial to understand the animal’s behaviour and how the new surroundings and attractions might impact the animals. The podcast guests explain how and why there must be a balance between the environments being consistent with their natural habitat, and how they must also provide an immersive experience for the visitors who are very committed to the conservation of wild animals and conscious of animal wellbeing.
The biggest challenge of all is making sure that there is no conflict – seasonal attractions such as Christmas light shows can cause stress to the animals, so it is important to separate the different parts of the business and it is here where the experience and expertise in this field is invaluable. Some businesses host concerts and festivals but any kind of diversification must provide sufficient revenue for the upkeep and maintenance of the land after an event as well as supporting the core business of the safari park and that takes a lot of strategic planning.
Ginny said: “There have been so many changes in legislation in the commercial and residential sector, so it is interesting to hear that other industries have faced similar challenges with changes in regulations and guidance when working in a completely different sector.”
Assets such as high-end, exclusive accommodation are now positioned close to enclosures offering a fully immersive, all-round experience for visitors which not only increases footfall and an extended season, but also encourages them to stay for a longer period which increases the amount of money they spend during their visit.
With extended seasons and opening times, businesses can have a more consistent revenue stream that doesn’t compromise the core business.  By adding a whole range of attractions, their regular income from memberships can be supported by the revenue created by diversifying their land further to provide an attraction which will be supported across a wide demographic.
Ginny added: “I thoroughly enjoyed hosting the podcast and learning about different specialisms within the Surveying industry which Richard Morris and Richard Baldwin are involved with.”