Sometimes it seems like zoo-goers are a whole different breed. They are generally more educated, more ethnically diverse, and earn higher incomes than other attractions guests, but understanding how zoo guests operate can teach us about guests at all types of attractions.
Related: Painted Dogs and Dinosaurs: Chester Zoo's New MD on Why it's All Happening at the Zoo / Attractions Marketing – Leverage Full Potential of Destination Brands / Aquariums are good for you! Interview with Dr Dave Gibson, MD, National Marine Aquarium
Zoos are one of the most popular attractions in America, with almost half of all attractions visitors in the country having visited a zoo in the past 2 years. According to the AZA, over 150 million people visit accredited zoos and aquariums annually. That’s more than all professional sports combined!
So, what gets Americans excited to go to the zoo in the first place? What would make their experience more exciting and more appealing? What would get zoo-goers to come back again and again? To answer these questions, PGAV Destinations commissioned H2R Market Research to perform a nationwide online survey of attractions visitors in March 2011. The survey was completed by 505 respondents and has a +/- 4.4% margin of error and 95% confidence interval.
Debunking the beast : “Zoos are Just for Families”
Nearly 40% of zoo-going households are ‘adults with no children.’ This is surprising since zoo figures tend to show that only 20% of their annual attendance is ‘adults with no children.’ What this indicates is interest in zoos is much further reaching than just households of families.
When asked why attractions visitors do not visit zoos, some of the most common responses related to not having children in the household. This tells us that adults do not believe zoos are a place for them.
Additionally, the top two responses (Price of Admission, Zoo Too Far) indicate that the zoo experience doesn’t offer enough benefit to non-zoo-goers to outweigh the burden of price and distance.
Implication: Zoos are missing out on a market segment that already has an interest in their product—Adults with no children. Breaking the perceptions that zoos are only for kids does not mean that zoos need to abandon their core group; it simply indicates that zoos should offer more adult-oriented products and programs. Adding value to the experience will not only increase the appeal to adults with no children, it may also increase the appeal to those attractions visitors that currently are not visiting zoos at all.
Don’t be Shy about Animal Interactions
The zoo industry has been slower to accept special experiences like touching or feeding animals and leading special tours that have long been offered at theme parks. But zoos should fear not. The overall trend shows a positive perception of interactive experiences. And, zoo-goers are willing to pay for these experiences. Only 8% of guests that viewed these experiences as positive believe they should be free.
The most popular of these experiences across all respondents are Behind the Scenes Tours, described to respondents as a tour where you will “see where the animals live, learn how the zoo works, and meet one animal in a special face-to-face introduction.” Family groups tend to prefer the interactive experiences like Touching, Feeding, and Swim With more than groups of adults without children.
Implication: When designing new exhibits, plan to include at least one special experience that will allow the zoo to gain revenue while creating a new avenue to achieve educational goals. These additional experiences create lifelong memories and enhance the perception of the zoo.
Build the Yellow Brick Road
When asked how guests navigate their way through a zoo, less than 20% said they seek out specific exhibits to visit. The vast majority of guests either follows the designated main path of the zoo or wanders without any real intention or plan. This trend held true for both family groups and groups of adults without children.
Additionally, only about half of all visitors intentionally skip past specific exhibits. These guests indicated the exhibits most often skipped are those related to Insects and / or Arachnids.
Implication: Zoo guests want to get the most out of their zoo experience, seeing and doing everything that is available to them. Because of this, clear wayfinding throughout the zoo is of the utmost importance to the zoo experience. Additionally, a strong wayfinding plan would include not only more signage and other physical clues, like wider sidewalks, but also would take advantage of the guests’ desire to be guided throughout their day, strategically placing revenue opportunities and planning timed interactions and shows throughout the experience.
The Cache of New
Guests are overwhelmingly motivated by ‘new.’ In fact, a majority of the respondents agreed that the addition of a new species within a new exhibit would entice them to visit the zoo again more than the rejuvenation of a treasured favorite like Frosty the Polar Bear.
Still, about one third of the respondents more highly valued a renovation of Frosty’s home. This is a surprisingly substantial segment of the market and indicates that guests have a wider definition of ‘new’ than previously believed.
Implication: Keeping things fresh and new is critical to the success of attractions. But ‘new’ doesn’t always mean expensive. Making smaller changes over the course of several years will reinforce the notion of new while maintaining lower costs. Of course, big changes make the biggest splashes, so master planning that balances large and small projects is essential to long-term success.