The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) contracted RK&A to conduct audience research for the Central Park Zoo (Zoo), located in the heart of New York City. As part of the study, RK&A explored the value visitors’ place on their Zoo experiences and the ways in which visitors use the Zoo and surrounding area. Findings from the study provide the WCS with a preliminary understanding of their visitors and lay the groundwork for a second phase of audience research. How did we approach this study? RK&A conducted in-depth interviews to explore visitors’ thoughts and perceptions of the Zoo, as well as the value visitors place on their Zoo visit and nature play. In addition, RK&A explored the connections visitors made between the Zoo and the surrounding park area. Interviews were conducted near the exit of the Tisch Children’s Zoo, as visitors tended to view it after viewing the main zoo. A total of 55 adult visitors from adult-only and family groups participated in interviews. What did we learn? Visitors had a positive association with their Zoo experiences, and viewed the Zoo as a place where they could relate to animals and each other. As such, visitors liked areas of the Zoo, like the petting zoo, that supported close up viewing and personal interaction with animals; visitors also preferred animals that were more active and seemed excited by human presence, such as the penguin exhibit. Further, most visitors perceived coming to the Zoo as an educational experience, and the available learning opportunities as the main benefit of their visit. Specifically, visitors valued the chance to learn about animals that were new to them, or to learn how to care for and respect animals in general. Visitors also made positive comments about the distinct features of the Zoo, particularly its small size and unique location. These features made visiting the Central Park Zoo different from visiting the Bronx Zoo or other zoos around the country. Visitors liked the “manageable,” “intimate,” and “kid-friendly” size of the Zoo, as it required less time walking between exhibits and generally did not take a full day to visit. Visitors also spoke to the relationship between the Zoo and the surrounding Central Park area. While visitors liked that the Zoo is conveniently located n Central Park, visitors perceived the Zoo and park space differently. Visitors viewed visiting the park as an opportunity to spend time in nature in an unstructured manner; whereas, visitors associated their trip to the Zoo as a structured experience to see and spend time with animals. What are the implications of the findings? Findings from this audience research study provide the WCS with a preliminary understanding of their visitors and point to areas for further exploration in the proposed second phase of audience research. For example, WCS and RK&A could explore in greater depth the nuances of how visitors use the Zoo to teach children to care for and respect animals, as well as the interpretive strategies that would best support this learning. Researchers could also delve deeper into the defining characteristics of the Zoo, such as its small size and unique location, to find marketing and programming opportunities. Researchers could also investigate the connections visitors do and do not make between the Zoo and Central Park to identify options for strengthening and taking advantage of that relationship. In addition, RK&A perceives the proposed second phase of audience research as way to explore other Zoo audiences, such as foreign visitors, tourists, and adult-only groups, and potentially look at audience trends across multiple seasons.
Wildlife Conservation Society
Randi Korn & Associates, Inc.
Randi Korn & Associates, Inc.
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