VISITOR numbers at Fota Wildlife Park this year will exceed all records, despite being closed for four months, if no further restrictions are introduced in 2021.
Some 470,000 people will have visited the park from January to December, according to park director, Sean McKeown.
Mr McKeown made his comments as the park opened a new facility for its eight spider monkeys.
The spider monkeys are the fourth most popular animal at the wildlife park, behind the giraffes, cheetah, and lions.
Mr McKeown said the park, which is celebrating 40 years in 2023, has big plans to develop and is integral to creating a tourism hub in East Cork.
“In 1983, East Cork was not a tourism destination. It is a different matter now and Fota Wildlife Park was instrumental in that change.”
Carrigtwohill Fine Gael councillor, Anthony Barry, who was deputising for the county mayor at the event, agreed with the comments made by Mr McKeown.
“East Cork was never a destination for tourism, it was a dumping ground for industry, but, thankfully, that is changing now.”
Mr Barry said that during the rough times of the pandemic, Fota Wildlife Park was a sanctuary for Cork people, as well as for the animals.
“Fota was there for local people, it meant so much for people to be able to walk the resort, park, house, and gardens.”
The East Cork councillor also highlighted the array of job opportunities that the commercial entities create for young and old in the area.
“Onwards and upwards,” Mr Barry said.