Animal parks MD Bob O’Connor launches consultancy business for growing attractions

Bob O’Connor, former MD of Howletts Wild Animal Park and Port Lympne Reserve, has left the two animal parks he helped save to launch a business mentoring company.

Howletts, based just outside Canterbury in Kent, covers 100 acres, and was set up originally in the late 1950s to house John Aspinall’s private animal collection. Port Lympne is a 600-acre estate located between Ashford and Folkestone.

When Bob started his role as Managing Director, it was his job to raise the money to rescue the struggling Howletts and Port Lympne. His solution?

Building an “authentic” safari lodge at Port Lympne. “We ran at 100 percent occupancy – because it was unique,” Bob told Blooloop.

From day visitor attraction to resort

He took Howletts and Port Lympne from a £3 million per annum loss to profit within his first three years. “Nobody else was doing what we were doing and it was a very unique experience.”

Bob’s expertise lies in “turning a day visitor attraction into a resort”.

“We created the Elephant Lodge, glamping, built a treehouse hotel, and the really unique Tiger Lodge and Lion Lodge. We were charging £1,200 a night, and running at 100 percent occupancy.”

Tiger Lodge is a whole new residential experience that promises close encounters with the big cats.

Business mentoring for small to medium-sized businesses

Through his consultancy business, Bob now wants to help people who are thinking of utilising spare land on their estates – whether they’re small to medium-sized farm attractions, landowners, “or people who’ve dabbled with a bit of accommodation but want to grow it”.

On what differentiates him, Bob said: “I’m not trying to do master plans for people, I’m not trying to rewrite business plans.

“It’s about looking for small to medium-sized businesses and helping them with the bits that they don’t have specialisms in.

“That could be retail, catering, or accommodation.”

Bob previously spoke to Blooloop about the decision that changed his life, his vision for the animal parks, and the Aspinall Foundation’s conservation initiatives.

For more information about Bob and his work, click here.