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Finnish zoo pins summer visitor hopes on panda pair

For the past couple of weeks Ähtäri Zoo pandas Lumi and Pyry have attracted some 500 visitors a day, and attendance is expected to increase in the summer.

Hua Bao, eli Pyry. Ähtärin panda
Pyry, one of two pandas at Finland's Ähtäri Zoo. Image: Tarmo Niemi / Yle

Ähtäri zoo's Snowpanda House opened its doors mid-February as a high-profile addition to the Finnish tourist scene. Since its launch on 17 February, the panda exhibit has attracted approximately 500 visitors per day, according to Jonna Pietilä CEO of Ähtäri Zoo, who said the visitor numbers have not disappointed.

"There's been a good amount of visitors, and because last week was winter break in Southern Finland we managed to meet our expectations. We usually get around 500 visitors each day, sometimes even 600," Pietilä said.

Last year the zoo attracted a visitor count of 180,000, which translates to just under 500 visitors per day, or roughly the same as current visitor levels. Helsingin Sanomat estimated that the zoo would need to sell an additional 100,000 tickets on top of current sales to make the panda exhibit profitable.

Mikko Savola, Ähtäri Zoo's chairman of the board, said the pandas would bring a substantial surge in attendance numbers, attracting some 300,000 visitors per year.

Most visitors enjoy daytime visits but only a small portion stay for the night, according to Pietilä. The same attendance numbers are expected for the next two weeks during ongoing school winter vacations.

Summer remains the high season

Some advance tickets have been sold, but they are still available in all time slots, Pietilä said. Tickets to the attraction are sold on an hourly basis; and visitors can remain at the panda exhibit for up to an hour.

"There's a lot of room here, whether you buy the tickets on the day or at the gate. There are no fully-booked time slots. We're busiest in the morning right after we open. Another spike in visitor numbers happens in the early afternoon," Pietilä said.

”Of course we hope that this season will extend and eventually even out, but in all honesty summertime is still our main season because of the school kids’ holidays. We are a family attraction and therefore a lot of visits focus on that holiday season” Pietilä acknowledged.

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