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In Case You Missed It… SSA at AZA Annual Conference 2023!


The Association of Zoos and Aquariums Annual Conference hosted in Columbus was truly remarkable! It featured captivating sessions, amazing reunions with partners and friends, and a fantastic Zoo Day hosted by Columbus Zoo and SSA. What an incredible week it was! Here are our takeaways and highlights from the week…

It's all about the guest experience!

The most significant insight our team gained from the conference was the focus on the holistic guest experience. From a packed session on technology in park, to revenue generating ideas, everything tied back to enhancing a holistic guest experience. It extends beyond the primary exhibits and animals, encompassing every aspect of the guest’s journey and how it aligns with our mission. A holistic guest experience means considering:

  • Staff InteractionsThe front-line staff can make or break a guest’s experience. Friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive staff can turn a routine visit into an unforgettable experience.
  • Admissions – Ensure a seamless and welcoming entry process, including clear ticketing options, friendly staff, efficient queues, and accessible information for visitors.
  • Food and Retail – Food and retail are not only pivotal components to drive revenue, they’re also ways to delight guests and extend your mission. Even better, bundling food and retail together to meet the guest where they are in their journey.
  • Technology IntegrationIn today’s tech-savvy world, attractions must embrace technology. Apps, interactive displays, and virtual reality experiences can enhance the visit, providing information, entertainment, and convenience.
  • IDEA + Belonging – A truly holistic guest experience prioritizes DEAI. Attractions must be accessible to all, regardless of physical ability, ethnicity, gender, or age. Diverse staff and exhibits, equitable pricing, and inclusive policies create an environment where everyone feels welcome and valued.
  • BrandingA strong brand identity sets an attraction apart from the competition. It’s not just about logos and slogans; it’s about the story an attraction tells that helps guests connect to their mission even more.
  • Consistency is KeyThe key to a successful holistic guest experience is consistency across all touchpoints. From the moment a guest hears about the attraction to their visit and even after they leave, every interaction should align with the attraction’s mission and values.
  • Feedback and Continuous ImprovementAttractions that actively seek guest feedback and use it to improve are more likely to succeed in the long run. Regularly evaluating the guest experience and making necessary adjustments demonstrates a commitment to excellence.
Some more highlights from the week...

Directors Dinner- cohosted with our partner, Columbus Zoo

SSA Partners & Friends Reception – cohosted with our partner, COSI 

Zoo Day – Cohosted with our partner, Columbus Zoo 

SSA Digital Booth App at Columbus Zoo  

Launch of Compostable Packaging M&Ms at Columbus Zoo


Thanks to SSA's session panelists

Guest Technology INSIDE the Park: New Ways to Connect with Wildlife
Jason Keller 

Advancing IDEAS in Retail and Food Services Offerings & Revenue Implications
Andrew Fischer & Jason Stover


Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – Resilient Planning, Resources, and Guidance for All AZA Facilities
Andrew Fischer


Research Initiatives Understanding Barriers and Opportunities for Women and People of Color in Zoos, Aquariums and Related
Shannon Fitzgerald

...and our AZA committee members!

Jason Stover

Wild Life Conservation
Andrew Fischer

Honors & Awards
Tera Greenwood

Business Operations
Jacki Sorvillo

Scott Lobaugh


Until next year!