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How One Zoo Connected with a New Generation of Conservationists


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When’s the last time you made a trip to the zoo? For many of us, it may have been when we all piled onto a school bus for an elementary school trip. For zoos, it can be a challenge to keep visitors coming back, long past the age of school trips. The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA), located in Tacoma, WA, faced this challenge as it thought about how to encourage visitor attendance while also reaching the next generation of conservationists and changemakers. Hoping to encourage more attendance from this key 18-35 year old demographic, the zoo turned to IBM Big Data analytics to help plan a strategy.


The results of the partnership had an immediate effect: The 29-acre zoo was able to increase online ticket sales by more than 700 percent, with an expected increase of up to 25 percent more by the year’s end. But with a full-time staff of only 80, how did PDZA do it?

PDZA armed its employees with iPads to access PDZA financial data, as well as attendance, membership and retail information. By analyzing sales, the zoo was able to send targeted promotions, such as reaching out to members whose memberships were expiring that day. The zoo saw nearly double the typical return on similar campaigns, increasing from three percent to six.

PDZA also worked with BrightStar Partners, an IBM Business Partner, to take the massive amount of information collected from its 60,000 annual visitors (including exhibit and special event preferences, conservation initiatives and feedback on social channels like Facebook) and organize it into manageable, usable trend data.

Armed with this data, PDZA was able to increase ticket sales and visitor participation in wildlife conservation while enhancing the overall visitor experience. And for Millennials particularly, the zoo wanted to tap into the group’s increasingly mobile and social lifestyle, turning them into influencers to help change attitudes on conservation.

The next step to reach Millennials is mobile ticketing. And with promotions like a $3 discount for visitors who check in on Facebook, the zoo is working to integrate programs seamlessly into Millennials’ lifestyles, while also garnering more attention towards conservation and ecological sustainability.

Learn more about how IBM Big Data Analytics has helped other cultural institutions like the History Colorado Center, here.

Photo via Flickr (cc) user Chelsea Nesvig

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