How VR is Changing Visitor Experiences at Zoos and Aquariums
Blog by Rod Findley, Group Commercial Director at Immotion Group
The balance all conservation organizations navigate is how to inspire a love and care for the natural world and educate audiences in animal welfare while being engaging and entertaining. The vocational passion of teams at zoos and aquariums around the world ensures that animal well-being is always the paramount factor in encounters with the public, and that guests are inspired, immersed and join the conservation journey. That is why we see more and more of the WAZA network enhancing their conservation mission with the use of virtual reality.
A New Dimension
Zoo and aquariums work hard to ensure their collections are seen in an environment that replicates their natural habitat in the very closest way. However, at times this can naturally inhibit high levels of guest interactivity, a factor which can be key to inspiring that deep reverence for wildlife and its conservation.
This is where virtual reality is a fantastic tool for ‘on mission’ zoos and aquariums and can bridge that gap, ensuring visitors can live out their dreams of getting closer to nature without disturbing or endangering it.
Technology now provides visitors with the chance to get up close and personal in encounters that, in the everyday world, simply aren’t possible. But in virtual reality they are accessible, in fact, pretty much anything’s possible! This enables zoos and aquariums to provide even better, more breath-taking experiences that build deep and meaningful connections with their visitors, inspiring them to step into the world of conservation.
The Rise of ‘Edutainment’
Environmentally engaged tech companies, like Immotion Group, are working with conservation experts and award-winning documentarians to bring us incredibly realistic, unprecedented virtual reality experiences that will be sure to blow away zoo and aquarium visitors.
The recently released Swimming with Humpbacks, from Immotion (and currently playing at major aquariums in the US, UAE, Europe and Australia), allows viewers to dive deep into the South Pacific Ocean and come face-to-face with some of the most elusive creatures on the planet. It does this in a non-intrusive way (using free diving techniques in Tonga) and providing never-before-seen footage including a mother bonding with her calf and a frantic heat run in which multiple males compete for a female’s attention.
On the back of the widespread success of Swimming with Humpbacks, Immotion has announced it will be releasing a Tiger Shark encounter, Shark Dive, which, like the humpback footage, will aim to change the way people interact and understand these creatures.
All operators in our industry understand that entertainment and education are no longer offered or accepted as two separate entities. How exciting is it then that through VR, they are being fused to create edutainment experiences that capture imaginations, spark new conversations and excitement while creating long-lasting memories.
As Greg Charbeneau, Vice President and General Manager of OdySea Aquarium in Arizona, commented, “Part of our mission is to incorporate education and conservation with technology, and incorporating VR into our guest experience, is really taking our mission and putting it all together.”
While some venues may have already seen strong growth from ancillary offerings, like VR, uncertainty is a natural reaction to new technologies and experiences. Immotion’s partnership approach is providing venues with a sustainable revenue-sharing model which allows zoos and aquariums to enter into an on-going partnership, with no upfront costs, in which they can tap into a constant stream of edutainment experiences to delight their visitors, drive footfall and encourage repeat custom. The end result: zero CAPEX outlay, zero uncertainty and guaranteed return on investment.
It’s All About the Balance
By blending new techniques and technologies, such as virtual reality, with the majesty of our collections, zoos and aquariums can provide a genuinely captivating and unrivalled location-based experience, and achieve increased secondary spend as well as delighted guests engaged in their conservation mission.
Virtual reality allows us to expand the stories we want to tell and build worlds that guests want to experience time-and-time again. From swimming with whales and diving with sharks to riding the Congo river and witnessing nearby apes in their natural habitats, anything and everything really is possible and it’s only a matter of time before we’re all experiencing it, one immersive second at a time.
The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) is the global alliance of regional associations, national federations, zoos and aquariums, dedicated to the care and conservation of animals and their habitats around the world.