Passion drives on man behind Banham Zoo and Africa Alive
14:59 01 August 2014
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2013
It is his beloved zoos that are the real passion of Martin Goymour – “Dinosaur Adventure is about having fun” – and the reason last year he took the far-sighted decision to transfer them out of the family business into a charitable trust.
As CEO of the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA), it means he is now accountable to a new board of trustees – “all selected professional business people committed to the aims of the parks” – but that has not in any way slowed his endless stream of ideas for further investment in the zoos, from enclosure improvements to longer-term aspirations, he would put it no stronger than that, to bring in more “A list” animals.
However, he acknowledged that although charitable status had delivered the major bonus of not having to pay VAT on admission fees – the bug bear of all tourist attractions – it had also placed new requirements and discipline on capital investment.
Up until last year, Banham Zoo and Africa Alive had been driven by his passion and that of his wife Caroline and their “fantastic team of people”.
And investment in park improvements had often been driven by funding from other parts of the family business rather than profits, a luxury that by no means could be guaranteed every year.
“My concern with advancing years – I am now 64 – was to secure the long-term future of the zoos and ensure the good work they do in terms of care and conservation continues into the future,” he said.
Not having to pay VAT was an important step towards the zoos “being able to stand on their own two feet” and charitable status also opened up the potential of other funding sources such as National Lottery cash. However, it dictated a more measured approach to investment as it could no longer be funded out of the family business.
Mr Goymour said: “It is going to take three or four years for ZSEA to become established and build up its necessary reserves.
“But there will still be a programme of investment and steady improvements over the next two years and we are also currently forming our longer-term plans.”
At Banham, autumn will bring a major redevelopment of the penguin enclosure, turning it into a walk-through experience and enclosing it with netting to allow the display of flying birds as well.
“The £50,000 to £75,000 cost will be met through the generosity of visitors and such fundraising events as the charity ball and Zoo Do,” he said.
“Next year we are looking to major fundraising to start an 18-month project to redevelop the sea lion enclosure.
“We are going to completely refurbish it and change it into a marine environment.
The filtration plant alone will cost £100,000.” At Africa Alive, near Lowestoft, fundraising already carried out would meet the £20,000 cost of installing a boardwalk over the waders’ lake at the bottom of the park and they would also be investing up to £40,000 in a major re-landscaping of the flamingo enclosure.
He said: “Next year we will be expanding the mini Savannah paddock which is an important feature of Africa Alive.”
Mr Goymour acknowledged that despite the best-laid plans, tourist attractions in Britain were still heavily dependent on the weather.
“The majority of visitors come between spring and the autumn and the first half of the year, with Easter and the May bank holidays, is critical,” he said.
This year, they had been fortunate with mild weather – allied to an improving economic picture – and visitor figures had consequently bounced back.
“At Banham Zoo they are 22pc up year on year and at Africa Alive 20pc.
Attendance figures at both zoos are back up to their best from the pre-recession era,” he said.
At Dinosaur Adventure, Lenwade, near Norwich – still part of the family business and managed by his son Adam – visitor figures, up 20pc, were on course to hit a record of 250,000 by the end of the year.
The success story at Dinosaur Adventure had been driven by their £1.5m investment three years ago in Dinomite, an indoor play area, and Mr Goymour sees covered, all-weather attractions as an important part of their long-term strategy.
He said: “Last year at Banham we opened the sub-tropical house Eureka!. Putting in more covered enclosures gives visitors confidence they can turn up even in the winter and still have a great day out.”
Mr Goymour is confident that the outlook for East Anglia’s £4.2bn tourism industry has never looked better with the improving road links.
“The completion of A11 dualling will be a major factor for tourism in Norfolk and we will have a new focus on marketing in Cambridgeshire next year,” he said.
Planned improvements to the A47 would also have a major bearing on families outside of East Anglia choosing our region as a destination.
He said the blueprint for the future – and for all tourist attractions – had to be focused on “maintaining quality, reliability and consistency”.
“You have to be confident in what you do and how you do it,” he said.
“And with regard to the zoos we have to make sure the animals are at the heart of everything we do.”