Celebrity zookeeper joins expert speakers at BTTS

The author of the bestseller We Bought A Zoo – which inspired the Matt Damon film of the same name – will be one of the celebrity speakers at the British Tourism and Travel Show.

Benjamin Mee, director of Dartmoor Zoo, joins TV presenter Julia Bradbury and Travelzoo’s UK managing director Joel Brandon-Bravo on the line-up for the show at the NEC Birmingham (March 22-23).

In 2006, the Mee family came across Dartmoor Wildlife Park, a dilapidated zoo with a poor reputation and financial problems.

If a purchaser could not be found, most of the animals would have been destroyed – so the family bought the zoo, saved the animals, and reopened it in July 2007 under the new name of Dartmoor Zoological Park.

It was a difficult time, made much harder by the return of his wife Katherine’s brain tumour – which sadly this time was terminal – and looking after his two young children.

After a crowdfund at the end of 2014, the zoo converted to a charity and has since been accredited for its excellence in education, research and conservation.

Mee will be sharing his experience of buying a zoo and discuss the key principles for a great visitor experience in his session ‘Overcoming the unforeseen’ (March 22).

• The show organiser, Diversified Communications UK, has announced that the second day of the event will host Group Travel Organiser Day (March 23).

As well as dedicated sessions, there will be 260 exhibitors including visitor attractions, venues, destinations, hotels, transport providers, associations and destination management organisations.

The day will start with a panel session by the Association of Group Travel Organisers, debating issues and challenges affecting GTOs.

This session is exclusively for GTOs and visitors will need to book in advance to attend. Contact the show’s marketing manager Caroline Bissell on cbissell@divcom.co.uk for details.