Jamie Christon has arrived at the leading UK visitor attraction at one of the busiest times in its 80-year history.
“There really is so much happening right now; I am very excited to have joined the zoo at such an important time, especially with work on our new £30m Islands development now underway. It is such an ambitious project which will take us into a whole new era,” said Mr Christon.
Islands will encompass large, natural environments for animals and zoo visitors, creating a feeling of being immersed in an exotic habitat. It will be based on Indonesian islands, including Bali and Sumatra, and will include a river boat journey giving different views of new exhibits.
Mr Christon said: “We envisage Islands will attract an additional 150,000 visitors a year and increase the zoo by the size of seven football pitches, making it one of the biggest zoo developments in Europe. The added value will not only benefit the zoo, but the local economy in and around Chester and the North West as a whole.”
After just a few weeks in his new role, the new managing director is already fully involved in Islands and other on-going zoo developments as well as managing the core commercial operation.
“I have arrived at one of the zoo’s busiest times of the year,” said Mr Christon.
“A combination of the school holidays, work starting on Islands and the opening of our fantastic BUGS! exhibition of giant animatronic insects has made it an ideal time to join. Seeing the zoo at its busiest helps give me a better overview of how it operates and the dedication and teamwork that goes into making it one of Britain’s most popular attractions.”
Mr Christon brings with him a wealth of experience, having been a key player in the tourism arena prior to moving to the zoo. A graduate of Leicester University where he secured a degree in politics, he began his career in the retail sector before moving to Manchester Airport Group in 2003. He also managed commercial operations at East Midlands, Humberside, Bournemouth and Exeter airports. More recently he has worked with Stena Line, the European ferries operator, helping see its group on-board operations through a period of rapid expansion and change.
Having grown up in a farming community, Mr Christon is delighted to have come into a role that mixes his lifelong appreciation of the animal world with his commercial abilities.
He added: “It’s my dream job. It might sound like a cliché to say it, but it’s true, I am very, very excited to be here and I am keen to help the zoo move forward in the best way I can. For 10 years I worked in the commercial development of airports, which may seem completely different to a zoo. However, when you think about it, they have many similarities. At the airports I dealt with a rich variety of businesses and people, from retailers to caterers to security and management and saw huge numbers passing through on a daily basis. The zoo is very much the same.”
Mr Christon has recently relocated to Chester and is living a few minutes away from the zoo in Upton.
“Chester is a beautiful city which I am eager to get to know. Strangely, it’s very similar to the two other cities I have lived in, historic Exeter and York. All three have so much to offer residents and visitors alike, which is probably why my move here feels so right.”