During the 11-week closure caused by COVID-19 Taronga Western Plains Zoo and sister zoo Taronga in Sydney were "still fielding a salary and wages bill of $1 million a week", the boss of the Dubbo attraction reports.
"So that hurts," zoo director Steve Hinks said in a speech at the Salute to Dubbo Business awards on Friday night.
COVID-19 made a triple whammy, coming after the three-year and "worst drought on record" and last summer's bushfires, "which tore the heart out of the tourism industry" in Australia, particularly NSW, Mr Hinks said.
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But despite the blows, the zoo director reported of 2020 having "surprises in store" that have brightened the outlook.
The zoo reopened on June 1 and had "our third-best June on record", Mr Hinks said. July brought "the best month this zoo has ever experienced" for visitor numbers.
"...October, the second-best month ever on record for the zoo, second only to July just gone," he said.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released in September confirmed the first recession in three decades.
But on Friday night Mr Hinks drew a distinction between the national and the local picture.
"So as our mayor mentioned before, what recession, we are bouncing back as a region," he said.
"We're bouncing back on the back of the huge contribution made by each and every business here tonight, and we like to think in the tourism industry that we're doing a little bit to help that happen."
He commended the zoo team members for the "fantastic job" they did to make it "a drawcard for regional NSW" and also extended the praise wider.
"...it is completely to do with the resilience and the toughness of the people who live and work in these regions, and that's everyone who's here tonight," he said.
"I've been in Dubbo for three years, and I've just been absolutely stunned by the camaraderie and the community and I think it's something we all need to be incredibly proud of and it is the reason we've bounced back in the way we have."