Weather events have the potential to greatly impact business operations and profitability, especially in outdoor-oriented economic sectors such as Tourism, Recreation, and Leisure (TRL). Although a substantive body of work focuses on the macroscale impacts of climate change, less is known about how daily weather events influence attendance decisions, particularly relating to the physiological thermal comfort levels of each visitor. To address this imbalance, this paper focuses on ambient thermal environments and visitor behavior at the Phoenix and Atlanta zoos. Daily visitor attendances at each zoo from September 2001 to June 2011, were paired with the Physiologically Equivalent Temperature (PET) to help measure the thermal conditions most likely experienced by zoo visitors. PET was calculated using hourly atmospheric variables of temperature, humidity, wind speed, and cloud cover from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at each zoological park location and then classified based on thermal comfort categories established by the American Society of Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). The major findings suggested that in both Phoenix and Atlanta, optimal thermal regimes for peak attendance occurred within “slightly warm” and “warm” PET-based thermal categories. Additionally, visitors seemed to be averse to the most commonly occurring thermal extreme since visitors appeared to avoid the zoo on excessively hot days in Phoenix and excessively cold days in Atlanta. Finally, changes in the daily weather impacted visitor attendance as both zoos experienced peak attendance on days with dynamic changes in the thermal regimes and depressed attendances on days with stagnant thermal regimes. Building a better understanding of how weather events impact visitor demand can help improve our assessments of the potential impacts future climate change may have on tourism.
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