Hotels Coming to a Zoo Near You

Last Updated May 26, 2009 5:16 PM EDT

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium may build a hotel to capitalize on its tourism, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
The zoo, which boasts more than a million visitors each year, expects increased visitation from outside of Ohio. Officials are considering whether or not to build an on-site hotel or resort with the Hotel & Leisure Advisors of Cleveland heading up a study about the project.

The study, which will suggest the size and scope of the hotel, could also recommend a restaurant or convention/meeting space. Although it's too early for even preliminary sketches, it's expected that the hotel would incorporate its surroundings of wildlife.

I suppose the idea of a hotel at a zoo is similar to the idea of a hotel at a national park or forest, in that it brings up a lot of questions. Can the building and maintenance of a hotel or resort be in line with the values and goals of a zoo?

On federal lands, the proposed development can bring outrage and anger as well as accusations of competing interests. But zoos are tourist attractions, usually created in urban areas that can handle large crowds. The only similarity is that they house wildlife which can be viewed and admired. So is a hotel at a zoo a bad thing? Hotel officials say the possible development, the first of its kind, could only increase tourism and the zoo's popularity.

While the idea of making zoos more of a tourism attraction does make me uncomfortable, I have to think, how is it any different from hotels near SeaWorld or Busch Gardens? Perhaps it's just that a nonprofit like a zoo running a hotel seems like a bad idea -- it often means hiring a vendor to run the development, squeezing out what little profit there is.

However, the study and any further debate may be moot. While the idea may be worth pursuing, I doubt the zoo or its board will find the credit or financing needed to build a hotel in today's market and economy.