July 13, 2022

We Heard You! Trends in the Zoo & Aquarium World

Results of a brief pulse survey asking what you thought were some of the most influential and pressing issues in our community.

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By Kathayoon Khalil, PhD

Recently, we asked you to respond to a brief pulse survey and tell us what you thought were some of the most influential and pressing issues in our community. In total, 234 of you responded to our questions – 70.8% from zoos, 9.9% from aquariums, 8.6% from another professional background not represented, 8.2% from a company who serves the cultural attractions market, 2.2% from other cultural attractions, and one garden representative (we see you!). We wanted to take this opportunity to share some of the insights we gained from your responses.

The Top of the List

We asked you, first, to pick the three trends you think will have the greatest impact on the aquarium and zoo profession over the next decade. The top three responses were:

  • What staff want from their jobs and the increased emphasis on mental well-being (50.9%)
  • Climate change the weather impacts it will bring (38.7%)
  • Increasing growth of animal rights activists and the push against animals in captivity (35.0%)
  • (A close fourth was aging infrastructure in our facilities (33.3%).)

All in all, these results tell us a few things. First, we’re passionate about the work we do, but we don’t want to sacrifice our emotional and mental well-being for our jobs. Next, we recognize the critical nature of our profession as issues like climate change continue to threaten our communities. And lastly, we see the importance of the next “evolution” of zoos and aquariums – one in which animal welfare is communicated and centered in our messaging and habitat design.

The Bottom of the Barrel

On the other hand, there were several items related to technology that ended up at the bottom of the list:

  • Technology replacing more and more jobs (3.4%)
  • The rise of the metaverse (3.4%)
  • AI and how it could impact how we do our jobs and interact with guests (7.3%)

These data suggest that we are less concerned with the possibility that our facilities will be replaced by technology. If the past two and a half years have shown us anything, it’s that technology cannot replace the power of a real-life experience.

The Middle of the Pack

A third cluster of priorities fell squarely in the middle – those related to diversity, equity, access, and inclusion.

  • Changing workforce demographics (23.1%)
  • Changing audience demographics and the new minority majority (20.1%)
  • The increasing split between lower and higher incomes (20.1%)
  • Increased focus on social equity (17.5%)

This seems to demonstrate that people aren’t quite sure what to make of the changing social landscape – where they fit in, how it will impact us, and to some extent, what we should do about it. This may be related to why these topics can be so difficult to talk about. Our language is evolving quickly and our understanding of these issues requires near constant re-negotiation of our previously held thoughts and beliefs.  

What’s Missing?

We ended by asking you what we were missing – additional trends and issues that were front-of-mind for you. Lots of ideas arose, but the most prolific categories were related to the ongoing social relevance of our facilities and economic issues. Social relevance included issues such as the changing expectations of generations as well as visitor expectations related to messaging and animal care. Economic issues encompassed both concerns about the national situation and potential recession as well as issues related to pay equity and financial models of zoos and aquariums. To a lesser extent, you also brought up trends related to government policy, collection sustainability, and infrastructure, among others.

Thank you to all who responded! We’ll aim to address these top trends in future thought leadership channels and will continue to monitor them as they shift in our ever-changing world. It’s a fascinating and powerful time to be a part of the zoo and aquarium industry and we’re so glad to be moving this field forward with all of you.

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