There was a great mix of advice and inspiration in relation to the aquarium business at the 8th International Aquarium Congress (IAC) yesterday, 11 September 2012. The Business Management session was chaired by Sea Life Director Rob Hicks with excellent input from keynote speaker, Elena Kazlas of ConsultEcon and various other speakers.
Kazlas has been involved in aquarium development for the past 18 years. On Monday night at the 8th IAC, she also spoke about developing the National Aquarium of Saudi Arabia.
She concluded her business presentation with an interesting observation: of the world’s 100 most populated cities, less than half of them have aquariums. There appears to be great potential for growth in the industry. Kazlas said there were around 1 000 aquariums in the world at the moment, mostly in cities with large populations. There are currently152 aquariums in Asia, with just 10 in Africa.
Kazlas spoke at length about the importance of digital marketing and pointed out how important it is for aquariums to be monitoring online reviews and conversations about them. Channels for online marketing and monitoring included TripAdvisor, Facebook and Twitter.
Some of her tips regarding industry best practice included:
- Regularly surveying your audience
- Knowing where your visitors come from
- Examining your existing revenues regularly (rather daily than annually)
- Keeping up to date with the latest trends in the industry
- Tracking public reviews online to know what is being said about your aquarium
- Reviewing your website on a regular basis
Rebuilding Aquamarine Fukushima
Yoshitaka Abe, director of Aquamarine Fukushima, provided some inspiration to delegates, speaking about how the Fukushima Aquarium had been rebuilt following mass damage caused by the tsunami on March 11 last year. While no people were seriously injured, there was US$25-million in damages to the aquarium due to a power blackout and other infrastructural damage.
Abe wrote a letter to the aquarium community a few days after the disaster struck.
A 60mm acrylic panel broke as a result of the tsunami, causing much destruction. Abe however joked: “Much of the marine life from the aquarium are now living in the Pacific Ocean and are very happy.” Read some TripAdvisor reviews of Aquamarine Fukushima to see how highly visitors rate it after all the repair work that was carried out.
John Hekkers, managing director of Monterey Bay Aquarium, gave some excellent advice to aquariums thinking of expanding: do thorough research first. In 2004, Monterey Bay Aquarium conducted robust research to determine weather adding a new wing would be beneficial. The research concluded that visitor numbers would initially rapidly increase, but then decrease to a level that would not sustain operating costs.
A decision was taken to focus on making the aquarium better, rather than bigger and in the eight years that followed, the aquarium enjoyed strong attendance. This year it is expected to attract 1.9-million visitors.
Lyle Squire (Pro-vision Reef Inc & Cairns Marine, Cairns, Australia): “Improving system resilience in the Australian aquarium supply industry”
Conservation and education constitute the added value of aquarium displays, but the value of aquarium supply fisheries is overlooked, said Lyle Squire, director of Pro-vision Reef Inc and Cairns Marine in Australia.
Zoological institutions don’t often pause to consider that their fish come from a defined fishery. Not all fisheries are equal. What type of fishery is your facility choosing to support?
Squire and his team have formed strategic partnerships to be recognised and secure their tenure. They formed relationships with fishery and marine protected areas managers and researchers to achieve world-class fisheries, something they call “improving system resilience”. And their Stewardship Action Plan applies industry standards to collect species identified in fishery Ecological Risk Assessments and those important for reef resilience in a changing climate.
“Ultimately it’s up to the consumer to decide whether they want to be part of the problem or solution,” said Squire.
Pablo Areito (Oceanogràfic, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia, Spain): “Sustainability: The sixth “S” to fight crisis”
Oceanogràfic’s management has been based on a “Five S” philosophy: Safety, smile, service, sales and savings but the sixth “S” of sustainability has always played an important role in the management of several departments and has contributed to the successful running of the Oceanogràfic.
Does an aquarium have to be sustainable? Areito says, yes. He believes most of the actions taken toward sustainability are helpful to make aquariums economically viable.
Xianfeng Zhang (Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, China): “Study and compilation on aquarium standards in China”
Quality aquariums with strong education and conservation messages have the ability to educate a broad audience about the importance of protecting our environment and to impact positive change, Xianfeng Zhang said.
With the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, Zhang and his team compiled aquarium standards. They are:
- Terminology of aquarium
- Requirements of aquatic mammal research facility
- Recording requirements for studbook keeping of captive aquatic mammals
- Water quality for aquatic mammals in aquariums
- Grade of aquatic mammal rearing techniques in aquariums
These five standards have been submitted to the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and are awaiting authorisation. A further 10 aquarium standards will be studied and compiled over the next five years and all standards will be revised or updated every five years.
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