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Trends in Business and Management of Zoos

These are trends with important implications for the business of running a modern zoo:



Team-Based Management

Some zoological organizations may be operating 21st century zoos with rigid 19th century management structures. Following trends in the corporate world, some zoos have developed "team-based" and other decentralized, flexible systems to improve communication and motivation for mid- and lower-level staff. For example, inter-disciplinary teams of keepers, horticulturists, custodians and educators have been formed to jointly operate new, highly interrelated display complexes. Master planning, quality control and security are management areas increasingly reviewed by interdisciplinary teams.

"Multi-layered integration is, first of all, an attitude. It happens because the people in charge are joiners, not splitters, and because it is good business." Quoted from "An Integrated Process of Exhibit Design" by Jon Coe, 1991, Journal of Museum Education.

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"Leveraging know-how and imagination is the next competitive frontier."

Nancy K. Austin

"Incentive", February 2000

Strategic Business Planning

As zoos become more attractive and financially self-sufficient based on their improved design, some are adapting entrepreneurial concepts such as "return on investment", "design-day visitation", "entertainment value" and "key outcome areas" to add rigor and accountability to the zoo business. The strategic scheduling of attractions: seasonal, annual, major or blockbuster can help to balance seasonal attendance and encourage sustained attendance and revenue growth, while avoiding "boom and bust" cycles of visitation.

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Development and Marketing

Zoos compete in the cultural/entertainment marketplace and many zoos benefit from carefully targeted advertising and joint promotions. Fund-raising and development activities must be far-sighted and consistent, yet flexible and opportunistic.

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Zoo Atlanta gorilla exhibit promition Zoo Atlanta promotion

for gorilla exhibits.

Photo: Jon Coe

Commercialization and Entertainment

The need to become financially self-sufficient is causing many zoos to introduce attractions such as train and carousel rides, show venues and commercial sponsorships. Can these be successfully integrated, contributing to the overall success of the zoo in fulfilling its non-commercial mission?

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Train Ride Why can't train and boat rides be integrated into immersion displays?

 Photo: Jon Coe

Independent Evaluation

How are you doing? Providing independent post-occupancy evaluation from both the public and animal sides of the exhibit equation is essential when budgeting and building a new facility. It also provides valuable support to future planning and fundraising activities.

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Visitors at the zoo. How are you doing? Evaluation is essential to future planning.

Photo at Louisville Zoo: Jon Coe

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