Navigate: boosting visitor numbers

Posted: 7th June, 2024

BIAZA's new marketing partner Navigate will be providing regular insights into the trends and factors at play across the zoo and aquarium sector. Olly Reed, from Navigate writes about ways zoos and aquariums can increase their visitor numbers and impact.

My name is Olly; I’m the Marketing Director at Navigate. Before Navigate, I spent fourteen years at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. I headed up the marketing department, helped secure the BBC television series and developed the Ocean Conservation Trust brand. Whilst at the NMA, I was happy to sit on the BIAZA Communications Working Group, and that’s why I’m delighted Navigate are supporting the BIAZA Executive Office in communicating the accreditation scheme and beyond. 

What can zoos and aquariums do to make a difference to visitor numbers this summer?

The last four years haven’t been the smoothest (to say the least). With wet summers, the cost of living crisis and a pandemic, to name a few issues, the classic “school holiday rush” hasn’t been what it once was for some. And the truth is, it’s not likely to go back to “the way it was” anytime soon. 

People are different now; society has changed, and how consumers make decisions has evolved. In this article, we will explore the various marketing and communications tactics you can use to ensure this summer is positive for your zoo or aquarium. We work with several BIAZA organisations, and these tactics have grown visitor numbers yearly.

Why focus on summer? That’s when people are most likely to want to get out and visit. Whether that’s locals, tourists or international visitors, people are in holiday mode and want to have experiences. And what better experience than to visit a BIAZA member with the family? This summer is going to be challenging. With unreliability in the sun shining, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) announced that after a particularly damp Easter, they saw a record number of bookings in short-haul flights for the summer to European destinations. That doesn’t mean there won’t be domestic holidays in the UK this summer, but it means you might have to work harder to encourage a visit. 

Marketing on a budget

No matter the size of your team, organisation, and visitor numbers, you first need to ensure that you know exactly where your marketing budget is being spent. Once you’ve got every penny accounted for, the calculation of how much money has been generated from this spend comes next. If there’s anything on that list that you’re unsure how much it’s made, or even if it’s brought in anything, I recommend pausing this activity for now. But I hear you ask, “Olly, what about brand awareness?”. If you have a huge marketing pot, then giant billboards in the city centre, TV adverts during Britain's Got Talent or half a page in the local magazine might be worth your time. But from our direct experience, zoos and aquariums have a finite marketing budget and big visitor targets to fulfil. Therefore, it’s paramount that for every penny you spend, you can track what it achieved. Whether that’s a QR code on a leaflet, a unique URL on a radio ad, or through digital advertising. Of course, it’s about balance, but with reduced marketing budgets, you have to be smart with your spend. 

Google Ads Grant

If you’re a charitable organisation (as in you’ve got a “charity number”), then make sure you’ve taken a look at Google’s “ad grants” of up to $10,000 a month to spend on advertising on their channels. There are rules to follow, but it can be a great (trackable) resource to drive bookings this summer for people looking for things to do or a zoo and aquarium nearby. 

Either get a team member to set it up for you and get some campaigns live, or speak to an agency, freelancer, or volunteer with the digital skills to manage it. While it can be a bit of work to set it up and get your campaigns live, it can considerably deliver ticket sales and highly relevant traffic. 

Time to change the channel 

Organic social media planning, content creation, and publishing can take a lot of time for your internal marketing teams. Getting engaging, on-brand, creative social content is a great way to increase your awareness and build a community around your organisation. 

But selling tickets, events, and experiences through this organic community channel is like trying to sell second-hand clothes at your friendly book group. It’s a quick way to turn your community away from you. Focusing on the proper channels for ticket sales is essential, and if you do it right, you can achieve great results. Focus your organic social content on building that community, advocacy and loyalty. Then, use other channels to pick up your sales for your offer. That’s not to say you can’t do both, but be mindful of the amount you’re promoting through organic. 

Purchase journey

When it comes to online bookings, the majority of zoos and aquarium websites we've come across are relatively good at engaging and enthusing audiences to visit; however, when booking tickets, things can get a little messy. You must reduce the amount of clicks and the complicated steps that can occur when visitors are looking to book tickets. Ensure that every step before the “book tickets” click is as simple as possible, making it clear how much your tickets cost and what is included with each purchase. To reduce the number of users who abandon their ticket booking, it's important to simplify the checkout process. In today's world, people value convenience, and a complicated checkout can deter conversions. Research shows that 75% of visitor attraction websites require customers to go through more than five steps to complete a transaction. This can cause frustration, higher abandonment rates, and declining consumer trust.

Speak to your website provider or team member who looks after your website. For research, just trial booking tickets yourself, adding your information and paying for a ticket, how did you find it? If the answer isn’t great, imagine someone without prior knowledge of your collection. Would they bother finishing the purchase?

Focus on what channels are working best. 

When working in zoo and aquarium marketing, there is a temptation to spread your brand as far and wide as possible. Whether using other membership websites to sell tickets for your attraction, local magazines and press, a billboard here or a poster advert there, there are so many options for marketing that it can be tempting to do as many as possible. However, different channels will work in various ways. Therefore, you must decide what outcome you want from each channel.

In our experience, two channels are the best for converting visitors to book. Regarding the low-hanging fruit, people are already searching for something similar to your offer. Paid search is 100% the best way to encourage bookings in the most cost-effective way to spend some marketing budget. However, we'd recommend focusing on meta-advertising if you want to inspire visits. 

Although the meta experience for businesses can be frustrating at times, for users, adverts appearing on their feeds that align with their interests are a great way to showcase your brand and experience to new audiences. Apart from Google and Meta, are there any channels we'd recommend you use? The most impactful channel used correctly is email marketing. 

This audience has already signed up and is engaged with your offer. So, the more you engage with them, showcasing the new animals, experiences, or sections of your offering, the better. Email should be your first channel when thinking of your marketing campaigns. 

This audience should get the best deals/ discounts/ first offering on new experiences. Once this channel has been saturated, move on to the abovementioned acquisition channels. Your email database is the only audience that you truly own when it comes to marketing. Even your followers and your social channels are not yours; to truly reach all of them, more than organic is needed. Therefore, email marketing is the best way to speak to your audience directly.

If you want to increase your email marketing audience, there are simple ways to acquire new email addresses through newsletter signups on your website. Or through opt-ins when booking tickets, in-person at the entrance, or on-site when signing up for your Wi-Fi. However, suppose you're looking to quickly increase your email database with quality users likely to engage and purchase. In that case, consider investing in a data capture campaign. We've run hundreds of data capture campaigns over the years and acquired hundreds of 1000s of email addresses for brands we work with. If set up and done correctly, you can build a new core audience for your zoo or aquarium and get a fantastic return on investment for summer. 


The summer holidays often inject a vital flow of revenue into your organisation, so it’s crucial to ensure you make the most of them. There is still time to make changes and innovate to make this summer one to remember. Take small steps and do things properly to have an impact. As always, if you face a challenge or a question, we’re here to help. We’re proud to work with the BIAZA community to ensure you have the tools and strategies to inspire visitors and connect people to nature.

By Olly Reed, Navigate

Navigate are BIAZA's marketing partner, more information about Navigate can be found  here. 

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not necessarily a reflection of BIAZA's positions


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