Back in 2011, for example, All Analytics editor Beth Schultz wrote about the Cincinnati Zoo, one of the first cultural attractions to use advanced analytics to discover ways it could cut costs, increase revenue, and deliver a better service to its customers at the same time. Of course today, with business analytics being much more common in the enterprise, other zoos have jumped on it and are seeing impressive benefits too.
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, in Tacoma, Wash., is a case in point. It's created a predictive model that has helped it overhaul decades-old staffing practices, as zoo administrator Donna Powell described in a Wired Innovation Insights story posted earlier this year. This involved looking at ticket sales and cross-referencing them with detailed weather reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create a predictive model of how many visitors it might get on any given day.
This is important for a venue that can have 1,200 visitors one day and 5,000 the next, as staffing needs to be considered, along with amenities, ticket pricing, and more. By using deep analytics to predict how many people are likely to arrive on any particular day, Point Defiance is able to achieve savings on days when few people arrive and in turn capitalize on those when the park is full to capacity. Powell explained in the Wired post:
Since 65% of the [sic] our costs are payroll expenses and most of our staff work flexible hours, we can now use data to accurately predict how many employees we need to have on hand each day. And as Point Defiance Zoo adds more analytical capabilities and data to our system, we'll be able to understand and adapt to the fluctuations in visitors more fluidly. So if it's nice in the morning, but going to rain in the afternoon, we could adjust staffing based on the weather patterns.
Analytics is going to help this zoo -- and no doubt many other public attractions as it catches on -- in a number of different ways, too.
At Point Defiance, for example, Powell wrote how visitors might one day be able to voluntarily "check in" as they roam around the zoo using mobile technology. Likewise, I would imagine, zoos might one day be able to analyze footage from video cameras to predict the routes people take through the park, or look at how long they spend at any particular area.
This is useful for figuring out what people's favorite attractions are and building engagement around those, as well as in planning park layout and design. With analytics insight, zoos will be able to tailor exhibits to visitors' interests and needs more effectively.
Zoos are also starting to apply business analytics in a different direction. As discussed in this case study from Blackbaud, which develops software and services for nonprofits, San Diego Zoo applied analytics to its database of recent and regular monetary donors. The goal was to figure out which were most likely to continue contributing over the long term based on a number of metrics, which Blackbaud in turn cross-referenced with predictions on individual's income.
From there, it was simply a matter of customizing the donation request communiqués the zoo sends out, thereby maximizing the amount of money brought in from volunteer donors while reducing the chance of scaring them off by requesting sums they would not be able afford.
This profiling also allowed the zoo to contact specific donors when certain projects needed extra funding, since it was able to analyze which had the most expendable capital and were the most committed to seeing the zoo develop, the case study reported. This personal touch gave the zoo a much higher success rate when requesting extra funds, which not only improves the business, but the lives of the animals in its care.
Moving forward, I'd like to see organizations like these take analytics one step further yet. Using a similar model to in-store customer tracking, zoos could analyze CCTV footage of animals to better determine how to construct enclosures. On top of that, for animals that tend to have a routine, regular analysis would be a solid method for spotting injuries or potential hormonal changes due to environmental conditions or pregnancy.
How else might zoos or other public attractions benefit from analytics? I'd love for you to share your ideas below.