US zoo taps into big data analytics to drive visitors and ticket sales

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium employs big data analytics from IBM to study everything from online sales and visitor attractions to the weather

A zoo and aquarium complex in the US is claiming big data analytics have helped increase ticket sales by 700 per cent and will provide a 25 per cent boost to online sales this year.

The 29-acre Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (PDZA), which is situated in Washington, attracts more than 600,000 visitors a year and is actively involved in wildlife and ecosystem conservation. The business collects millions of data records relating to visitor exhibit and special events preferences as well as participation in its conservation activities.

To do this, the zoo partnered with IBM and its business partner, BrightStar Partners, to employ big data analytics across its data sets with the aim of driving ticket sales, enhancing the visitor experience, and increase participation and awareness of conservation initiatives. Another key priority is capitalising on conversations across social channels such as Facebook in order to better engage with the 18-35-year old demographic.

According to PDZA, one way big data analytics has made a difference is by simplifying its membership marketing campaigns and giving the team access to relevant data within minutes. Previously, the membership division had to wait several days for the IT team to extract the information from point-of-sale systems and create a mailing list.

Big data analytics has also helped to better the zoo’s social media marketing efforts, improved its ability to connect with social users, and act on insights gleaned from social channels. A recent example was a campaign offering a $3 admission discount to zoo members who checked in to its Facebook page. Insights generated through big data analytics have also highlighted when and what customers are purchasing via the zoo’s website, contributing to 700 per cent online sales growth in the past two years.

Another way the zoo is endeavouring to improve visitor engagement is by supplying employees with iPads to access financial data securely as well as attendance, membership and retail information. Using analysis across sales data and open rates online, the organisation has launched a series of targeted activities including a recent discount promotion to members on the day their membership expired. The zoo claimed a 6 per cent buy in, double the average return on mail renewal campaigns.

PZDA is also using analytics across a range of external data such as weather information, as well as improve staff resourcing across various areas of the zoo.

“As a zoo, we are now realising the power of big data and how insights can be gleaned from information ranging from Facebook comments to a retail sale made at our gift shop,” said PZDA spokesperson, Donna Powell.

“The collaboration with IBM and BrightStar Partners, and the use of big data analytics, are helping us to better understand visitor preferences while conserving wildlife at the same time.”

Forthcoming technology plans at PZDA include introducing a mobile ticketing solution that works with near-field communication (NFC) capabilities and allows visitors to check in to different areas within the zoo. This information will be used to understand which exhibits are most popular and have the longest ‘stay times’.

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