In time for the summer season kicking off at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, guests will spend money in a new way.
Forty-seven self-service kiosks have been installed in several areas with concentrated pedestrian traffic, including at the main entrance and concession areas.
Each touch-screen kiosk is programmed to handle different tasks depending on where the kiosk is located. The kiosks accept credit cards and gift cards as forms of payment. Guests with memberships can either scan their membership cards or enter their number and last name to receive discounts on eligible tickets and food.
Cash sales will continue on a limited basis. No zoo staff members have been displaced by the kiosks.
Jeremy Eddie, senior vice president of finance and administration and chief financial officer, said the zoo installed the kiosks in light of the ongoing hiring struggles affecting Nebraska and the U.S.
The installation of the kiosks was, Eddie said, “really driven by the fact that we simply didn’t have enough staff members” to handle ticket sales and take orders at the concession stands. He said the zoo spent roughly $1.5 million to install the kiosks.
People are also reading…
“Typically, in the summer, we can have upwards of 500 part-time staff members,” he said, adding that the zoo is looking to fill more than 150 positions in guest service operations this summer. He added the typical starting wage for those positions is $13 per hour.
As of April, Nebraska was tied with Utah for a record-low unemployment rate of 1.9%, according to preliminary seasonally adjusted data. But the state has about 55,000 job openings, according to the state website NEworks. Calling the reasons behind the state’s labor shortage “really perplexing,” Eddie said the zoo has changed its marketing strategy in an attempt to attract more employees.
“I think everyone is doing everything they can in that realm and also approaching it from the other side into looking at alternatives in the event that the staffing issue doesn’t (resolve) itself soon,” he said.
Zoo officials also unveiled the renovated Howard and Rhonda Hawks Plaza next to the Desert Dome.
“The Desert Dome is one of the iconic features of our zoo that really makes us very different from a lot of other zoos. The front door to that we felt was really in need of a face-lift,” said Dennis Pate, the zoo’s president and CEO.
Some of the plaza upgrades highlighted by Pate include new pavement, landscaping and seating that should give guests more relief from the summer heat. Other features of the renovated plaza include a stucco façade to the Lozier Giant Screen Theater.
Overall, Pate said the plaza renovation cost about $5.3 million. The project was financed by donations from four foundations.
Pate also highlighted changes near the zoo’s north entrance that include a refurbished and relocated carousel. The carousel is part of $12.5 million in upgrades to the area, which include more seating, more stroller parking space and the installation of large umbrellas to provide more shade. A small gift shop that sells necessities such as sunscreen, swim diapers and sunglasses was also added.
With the completion of those projects, there is no longer any active construction occurring at the zoo for the first time in 12 years.
“It’s fantastic not to see yellow barricades, construction fencing, detours (and) dead ends. All of the things that we may have faced in the past are gone,” Pate said. “It’s great to have the zoo in one piece.”