EPISODE 12: Creating a superior guest experience in any leisure venue and how the animal, museum, and attractions segments of our industry are adapting their business model to survive

Guest: David Rosenberg - Vice President of Guest Experience at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California

Dennis Speigel welcomes David Rosenberg, Vice President of Guest Experience at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. David is responsible for the daily operations, public and fee-based programming, volunteer docent programs, interpretive training, and is chairman of the Visitor Experience Steering Committee. David brought extensive experience to the Aquarium from his years at Walt Disney World and the Hyatt Hotels Corporation. As an industry veteran, David is also past Chairman of IAAPA and recipient of its Industry Service Award. On Episode 12 of the I’M4FUN Podcast, David and Dennis discuss new and creative ways of offering a superior guest experience in the post Covid world, while also meeting the new expectations visitors have for attractions related to environmental responsibility. Hear how the animal, museum and attractions segments of our global industry have fared and changed during this global pandemic, while also learning valuable insights from a highly respected industry leader about our best strategies to ensure the industry overall is once again thriving as we move further into 2021 and beyond.

About David Rosenberg
David Rosenberg is Vice President at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In his role, he is responsible for the planning, implementation and oversite of the Aquarium’s world renowned guest experience. Mr. Rosenberg began his career at Walt Disney World. He then joined Hyatt Hotels and operated many of their top properties in the U.S.. In 2007 he started at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Mr. Rosenberg is an active member of IAAPA where he recently completed his term as the Chairman of the Board – the first chair to come from a zoo or aquarium. He was awarded IAAPA’s prestigious “Outstanding Service Award” and received the U.S. Congressional Outstanding Achievement Award. He was a founder of a California State University academic advisory committee, an influencer in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, authored many articles, and a featured speaker at industry events worldwide. By combining his expertise in both hospitality and attractions, he is recognized as a global leader in the industry.

Additional Questions after the Podcast

The February 24th podcast with David Rosenberg, Vice President of Guest Experience at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, included many questions that we did not have time to answer. David has been kind enough to provide answers to these questions (see below), and we appreciate him doing so. If there are any other questions or comments, please send them to itps@interthemepark.com.

Can you please share the demographic make-up of your guests and your membership at the Aquarium. What is the breakdown, and also, have you seen a change in this breakdown since you have been at the Aquarium?

Our annual reports are posted on our website here: https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/about-us/financial-statements-and-annual-review/annual-review. The demographic does shift very slightly from year to year as the economy may influence the drive / fly market.

We know that many leisure attractions today are working hard to reduce impact to the environment. What has the Aquarium done in this regard, specifically in the reduction of single-use plastics and similar measures?

We have taken many steps to ensure that we are “walking our talk”- this includes eliminating plastics in our F&B areas, working with local farmers to ship produce to us in re-usable bins (instead of single use plastics), developing a close relationship with large scale merchandise providers and building alternatives to merchandise plastic packaging. Additionally, we are one of the founding members of the “Aquarium Conservation Partnership” – a group of U.S. aquariums working together to reduce the use of single use plastics in our operations and educate our visitors on how they can make a difference too. One thing I have learned is that you ca not take away a service from visitors without giving them a good alternative. For example, when we eliminated plastic water bottles in our F&B areas, we needed to have a good alternative that did not cost substantially more than what we replaced. When we did this correctly, visitors willingly made the shift and learned how they can make a difference in the future too.

Your published 2019 annual report showed that admissions revenue was roughly 35% of total revenues. Has this been consistent in recent years or have you noticed a shift in revenues that come directly from paid admissions?

Our revenue streams have remained pretty consistent over the past several years (excluding 2020). In some years we will fund-raise for a specific project – this will obviously fluctuate based on where we are focusing our efforts.

What level of length of stay, in hours, do you strive for in order to ensure a successful guest experience?

Our average length of stay is around 3 hours. We have found this timeframe allows the visitors to attend at least 2-3 programs/shows and experience the majority of the Aquarium. With proper trip planning (something that we strongly encourage) a visitor can plan a successful visit and enjoy the F&B areas and shops as well.

Mobile interactivity and social media are both now such a strategic part of connecting with guests and members. What kind of program does your Aquarium use, and how have you seen these programs change not only in aquariums, but in amusement attractions, zoos, and museums?

In our case, we have shifted from mobile apps to mobile websites. This provides a richer experience. Also, as we discussed on the podcast, our social media and mobile interactivity are focused on engaging visitors pre/during/post visit. We hope that this immerses them deeper into our mission and provides a channel to stay connected with us long after they leave. While we do provide some technological solutions during a visit (i.e. digital maps, a text message program, etc.) we are very careful to not allow technology to take away from the experience that looking into a natural environment provides. As great as tech is, it can also be a distraction if not used correctly.

One common thread that animal-based operations have to deal with is, of course, the care of animals, breeding, conservation, etc. This includes dealing with and working with organizations like PETA. What would you say are the most difficult challenges to overcome when it comes to animal care and how do you see these challenges evolving in the years ahead?

The public is holding us accountable to our word. Mission based organizations need to demonstrate that they are truly benefiting the community in the ways they articulate. It is easy to lose credibility if you say one thing and do something else- this credibility takes a long time to earn back. The public is becoming more sophisticated in how they monitor organizations and what they do. It is up to us to exceed expectations and make sure we are truly staying true to our mission. If we are, we are able to gain support from those that believe in what we stand for.

The study of Zoonotic diseases, where diseases may spread from animals to humans, is often listed as a concern for visiting animal attractions. How knowledgeable would you say your guests are about how diseases pass from animals to humans? Is this a true concern when visiting an animal-based attraction that must be addressed publicly?

I am not aware of this being a large concern as long as everyone is following the proper safety protocols outlined by the zoo or aquarium.

You have probably visited several aquarium operations not only in the US, but around the world. Outside of your own (which is a great Aquarium!), which aquariums in the world today would you say are truly cutting-edge when it comes to technology, guest experience, approach to exhibits, and of course, conservation. And, for each, why?

Every institution is unique and has something special to offer their visitors. It is hard for me to say one is better than another. A couple of exhibitions that have stood out to me include: The Underwater Forest at Oceanario de Lisboa (Lisbon Aquarium)…it is a truly immersive and beautiful experience that incorporates sound, visuals, human interactions and a very tranquil theme. Aquamarine Fukushima in Fukushima, Japan has an amazing collection of animals and the entire aquarium looks like a work of art. The aquarium is filled with story tellers waiting to tell you about their rich history (I had a great conversation with an 86 year old fisherman that was there to tell visitors about how the catches have shifted over the years). Every AZA accredited aquarium in the U.S. has their own story to tell – and each is dedicated to different components of conservation…..and in my opinion, they each make a big positive impact on their surrounding communities. 

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