Zoo Apps: What are the essential features for a great guest experience?

Planning a mobile app for your zoo or wildlife attraction? Here are 6 features we think should be essential in your next zoo app, to give your guests the best experience.

Guest-facing apps are a fast-growing topic across all attraction types. However, as non-profit organisations with unique challenges and goals, wildlife attractions such as zoos, safari parks and aquariums, in particular, can benefit from mobile apps. This is because wildlife attractions need to do two things: sustain the day-to-day operations of the zoo while also raising awareness of, and supporting, their conservation projects. 

Because of this, having an engaged and loyal audience for zoos is essential. At the same time, however, if zoos are to sustain long-term growth and diversify their audience, they need to solve the visitor attractions trilemma: balancing volume (the number of visitors) with value (the money visitors spend) without taking away from the visitor experience. 

Technology is an integral part of this forward-thinking for the more future-ready attraction brands. By seamlessly integrating digital with the physical experience, attractions can create a fully immersive, connected experience. Done correctly, a mobile app can help you achieve this new gold standard of customer service while engaging with a new demographic of guests. 

By leveraging the smartphone everyone already has in their pockets, the barriers to entry for a mobile app are low — and offer big potential. But one question remains: what features should a zoo app have?

Top 6 Features a Zoo App Should Have:

Not all apps are created equal, so it can be challenging to settle on the right approach for your attraction. However, there are a few key features that we believe should be on an app spec, thanks to their ability to align with zoos’ unique operational and communication needs:

1. Digital Ticketing

Most if not all Zoo’s now offer the opportunity to get a digital ticket. This is because digital ticketing is more convenient than traditional paper ticketing, both for your visitors and staff. That’s because digital ticketing removes queues at the entrance and reduces the risk that visitors will forget or lose their tickets on the way to the zoo. 

Apps are great at selling to their user. With this in mind, your app could boost revenue by allowing your zoo to promote ticket upgrade options. Memberships are vital income generators for zoos. Membership passes can be managed within the app, while also delivering additional benefits for members, such as special member offers and exclusive experiences to help incentivise and reward loyalty. 

This zoo app features also presents an opportunity zoos to reaffirm their dedication to the environment -to reduce or even eliminate paper waste – particularly now that more than half of consumers are either very or extremely environmentally conscious. 

2. Visitor Wayfinding with your Zoos Map

Since 2020 we’ve witnessed a growing trend amongst our customers to ditch their paper maps in favour of digital alternatives, or even going fully paperless. For zoos in particular, this can be one of the biggest drivers for launching a mobile app, as we saw with Whipsnade Zoo

For some visitors, the experience of finding their way around a zoo with hundreds of animals and a wide variety of thematic zones can be a navigational challenge. Unlike paper maps, which are often confusing or overwhelming to use, interactive maps allow guests to see their exact location and navigate easily. Visitors can choose between the fastest and accessible routes. As well as take advantage of intelligent search options to figure out what time a talk or show is on, or even the best time of day to see their favourite animal.

3. Interactive Activities and Exploration Stations

While many Zoos have interactive stations set-up across their facilities, these stations are built for purpose at the time and can be hard to update and change regularly. Digital interactive activities and exploration stations can be updated regularly with key information, making it re-visitable, engaging visitors every time they visit and making them want to come back for more.

Gamification has been shown to increase engagement at zoos. With a little bit of magic, your map can easily turn into an exciting host for a treasure hunt, where points of interest on your map become mysterious stops in an unfolding story. Augmented reality (AR) enables children to point their devices at certain locations or exhibits and reveal virtual treasures or animals, making their treasure hunt more engaging and educational with fun facts about the animals or conservation messages.

Points to consider for your digital exploration stations:

  • Time of the year: theming your app adventure to include novelty items. Make it fun! Kids love to explore and if they can collect digital items then all the better. Have you considered card collections? Update the cards available to collect across the zoo and visitors can keep their cards in the app. This will drive attendees to come back time and time again to collect the new seasons cards or limited editions on special events!
  • Animal Behaviours: As the year rolls round, the seasons and change in light can affect animal behaviour. By updating the fun facts and key information available, visitors will learn something new each time they come. This issue with a lot of Zoos (in our opinion) is that the same information plaques are available every time you go, so there’s nothing new to learn.
  • Age of Visitors: An app allows you to adapt your information stations to be relevant to the age group attending. A 4 year olds learning experience will be vastly different to that of a teenager or an adult. Make sure your zoo experience is for everyone.
  • Points of Interest: Ask your visitors what interests them as they explore your Zoo’s ground. Whether it be animal facts and behaviours, conservation, or research, your app can adapt it’s information to the visitors interest. This is another brilliant way to segment and profile your visitors for internal feedback – giving you key data to drive your Zoos plans for marketing and operations, leading to increased revenue.

4. Location-based Messaging: Driving Your Agenda

Did you know? While the majority of zoo visitors are open to conservation messaging and initiatives, they’re 20 times more inclined to take part in conservation opportunities when on-site, than they are to engage in these kinds of actions after a visit. This is especially true if conservation actions are facilitated via staff and programs as opposed to passive visits.

For zoos, this means that finding a way to communicate with their visitors while they’re on-site is crucial. While it’s not realistic for zoo staff to deliver a 1-1, personalised experience for each and every guest, luckily, location-based messaging may help fill this gap. Thanks to location-based messaging, zoos can provide visitors with additional information on animals and ongoing conservation work, as well as show adoption, offers based on demographic info, or how long they spend at a particular exhibit. This is important as visitors are more likely to take conservation action for a specific species they connect with versus the conservation of biodiversity overall.

5. Mobile Food Ordering

As we’ve seen a shift during the COVID period, with restricted visitor numbers and face-to-face interactions, zoo operators have had to find new ways to keep revenue sources. Since secondary spending on food and drink already makes up a large part of the overall revenue at zoos, it makes sense to invest heavily in mobile food ordering to capitalise on this visitor spend.

With intelligent cross-sells, up-sells, and automatic reminders, mobile food ordering can increase transaction sizes by up to 42%, while also freeing up staff and reducing printing costs by eliminating the need for physical menus. 

Mobile food ordering is more convenient, as well. People generally don’t come to your zoo for the food, they come to see the animals. The last thing they want to do is spend half an hour waiting to be seated at a café and then another half an hour waiting for a sandwich. A bad experience at a zoo café or restaurant can spoil a visitor’s entire visit. Mobile food ordering lets visitors order their lunch from anywhere in the park, pay with their card, Apple or Google Pay, and collect it when they’re ready – giving your visitors longer to enjoy the zoo.

6. Virtual Queuing

Long queues are something most people associate with other attractions, such as theme parks (or being stuck behind the person with a full trolley in Tesco). However, the truth is that high-profile exhibits often require queuing to limit crowds and provide the best experience for guests.

Creating a more intimate experience through virtual queuing also helps build connections and enhances overall visitor satisfaction. Besides, fewer crowds is better for the animals’ well-being. Virtual queuing removes the frustration of having to wait in line. Guests can join a virtual queue using their smartphones and receive an alert when it’s their turn to see an exhibit. This gives visitors more time to explore everything else you have on offer. It can also boost your revenue! Guests who have extra time on their hands are more likely to stop by the café for a cup of tea or visit the gift shop. On another, virtual queuing also allows you to build upgrade offers (like skip the queue, behind-the-scenes experience, or a photo package) into the user journey, which can further increase secondary spend growth.

Choosing the best features for your zoo app

Still not sure which features to opt for? To determine the functionality your app needs to have, consider:

  • Guest feedback. The main objective of a mobile guest app is to reduce friction and maximise the guest experience. Although you might have a good idea of the friction points that a mobile app could solve, your guests know best what could improve their visit. Talking to them and evaluating their feedback can help you pinpoint some of the most common frustrations.
  • Industry and consumer trends. The world is continuously changing. To stay relevant, you need to see what expectations and drivers your app should respond to, for example personalisation and contactless payments.
  • Business objectives. An app can offer tremendous value for improving key metrics like guest satisfaction, secondary spend, memberships and donations, net promoter score (NPS), cost-saving, and much more. Make sure that the features you choose support the metrics that matter to you.

Delight guests and deliver results with a new Zoo App.

hello from rokir wave emoji Hi I’m Jade, Project Manager of the ROKIR team
I work alongside both our client’s and internal teams to manage the day-to-day tasks of our ongoing campaigns and projects, to make sure we’re hitting our goals.
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