£12,000 to see the pandas – with a buffet thrown in


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The Independent Online

First there was the prawn sandwich brigade, then the rubber chicken circuit. Now the corporate hospitality industry is bracing itself for the birth of the bamboo banquet.

Edinburgh Zoo, which will take delivery tomorrow of the first pandas to arrive in Britain for nearly 20 years, is to offer a range of executive packages which will bring visitors face to face with the endangered mammals.

One estimate has suggested that companies could pay up to £12,000 for a buffet served at the zoo's historic Mansion House before a one-hour exclusive viewing of Tian Tian and Yang Guang in their £250,000 enclosure.

The zoo said it had yet to finalise any plans for panda-themed corporate packages, team-building exercises or office away-days beyond its existing range of entertainment and conference facilities. A spokesman said officials were too busy prioritising the mammals' welfare.

But Lime Venue Portfolio, the company which organises events at the zoo and Mansion House, said it was confident of the pandas' potential pulling power. Richard Kadri-Langford, the head of marketing said: "What we are offering is an opportunity beyond the usual expectation of a hotel on the M4. No one wants to go to a conference there.

"By selecting an original and unusual venue you are starting off on the right foot. You are getting people to take notice, increase delegate numbers and you will be sending messages that will remain in the memory for a long time."

The company, part of the Compass Group, already offers venues such as the Natural History Museum, Bristol Zoo Gardens and the Ricoh Arena, home of Coventry City Football Club.

Edinburgh Zoo has come under mounting criticism from animal welfare groups that the arrival of the pandas to the UK – part of a new breeding programme – is little more than a commercial operation. Campaigners have also questioned the conservation merits of the scheme.

The charity will pay £600,000 a year to the Chinese government for the privilege of hosting the animals for at least 10 years. It must also import bamboo supplies from a farm in Holland at a cost of £70,000 a year. The zoo said tickets sales had risen sharply since it announced the pandas' arrival.