The last couple months

I can’t believe it’s June 20th already! In the beginning I was so good about keeping a blog, but as internships ramped up, the blogging slowed down.

I have been at the zoo consistently since my last post, pretty regularly Monday-Friday, with Wednesdays reserved to visit my local hotels for the marketing internship. The rest of the time has been spent auditing the narrations in the park for my capstone. I’ve been able to hit most all of them three times each (there’s around 22 of them ranging from 5 min. long to 25 min. long).

This auditing was “phase 1” of my capstone and was definitely the most time-consuming. Starting last week, I met with my supervisor for the capstone here at the zoo and we discussed taking on the manatee talk as my specific project to work on. Because of that, I am now in the initial stages of assessing the effectiveness of the manatee talk to communicate proper conservation messaging. I am currently asking visitors open-ended questions about manatees such as: “What is the first word that comes to mind when I say the word “manatee”?” and “What are some things you can do in your daily life that can help manatees?” to get a baseline of what the guests already know and feel about manatees. Then from there, we will do another visitor assessment about behaviors people already do/will do/won’t do (recycling, turning of lights, reusing items, etc.) All of this information will be considered as a new draft of a manatee chat narration is made. Ideally, I would be a part of this entire process seeing it out until the new narration is implemented. However, due to the length of my internship that simply won’t happen. Not to mention, I am very happy to report that I have been offered a full-time position in the education department at the zoo!! So, the amount of time I have to dedicate to the rest of the narration reworking will definitely be shortened, but for good reason! Luckily, my supervisor does work closely with the education department (and the education department is the one that gives this narration) so hopefully I will actually be able to still work on this project, around upcoming trainings!

On a bit of a side-note, here: I attended the National Association for Interpreter’s Certified Interpretive Guide training last week and it was fantastic. Assuming I passed the written test, I am soon to be a certified interpretive guide! At this training, I was able to present an example of a manatee talk I think would be suitable for the zoo, tying it into my capstone project. I learned a great deal and truly think it has already helped. I gave a tour on Sunday that I have given plenty of times before (at my old job- I was filling in this time!) and it was honestly the best one I have given. I’m so glad I did this training and recommend it for anyone who works in a field where you have to interact with the public: parks, museums, zoos, aquariums, etc. There’s also one called Certified Interpretive Host which is a little less intensive but just as valuable for those who perhaps work in hotels and other customer-service related fields that aren’t necessarily “teaching” the public.

Alright, I think that’s what I’ve got for this week. I’ll keep you posted as I go through orientation on Saturday! In the meantime, here are some pictures from my “secret shopping” in the park listening to the narrations:

National Tourism Week

I’ve been eating quite well this week! I think the best way to break down this week may, in fact, be by using food.

On Monday I attended a team-building session with the zoo marketing team. We did a scavenger hunt (which, admittedly, consisted mostly of eating bread and drinking coffee at Columbia in the Tampa Bay History Center), took the new “zoo express” water taxi ride which brings guests from downtown Tampa directly to the zoo via pirate water taxi, and we finished at the Florida Aquarium (funny since I just wrapped up my other internship there!) with a fantastic lunch. I decided to stay past lunch in order to be a part of the marketing meeting that followed. The staff reflected on the past year’s events in a very warm, open environment lead by the Senior VP/Chief Marketing Officer.

Tuesday I went back to my normal diet, but by Wednesday I was being spoiled again. Last week was National Tourism Week, and as such there were luncheons held each day to celebrate. Wednesday’s was at the Bryan Glazer JCC and it was fabulous! Busch Gardens was a large sponsor and provided us with entertainment, centerpieces, and gift bags to take home. Bay News 9’s Veronica Cintron was the host for the event and kept the event moving very smoothly. Awards were given, the impacts of tourism on the local economy was discussed, we ate a great lunch, and called it a day.

Thursday was another day to recover from the food, but by Friday I was right back at it. Friday’s luncheon was held at the Tradewinds Resort in St. Pete. It was the first time I had the chance to visit and I am so glad I had the chance to go. The lunch was held outside in their permanent tent fixture. While it wasn’t as exciting as Wednesday’s lunch with the dance performances, there was still a lot to be learned as our guest speaker discussed what happens to tourism/what may happen to tourism in an uncertain economy. I just finished up Economics & Finance for Sustainability class and was pretty excited when I understood the language he was using and was able to keep up! (Thanks professors!) I carpooled to this event with the catering manager at the zoo and she is close friends with an employee at Tradewinds who, after the event, volunteered to walk us around the property and show us the different guest rooms/ballrooms/outdoor areas. It was an impressive resort, for sure! Next time I’ve got to pop over next-door to the Guy Harvey Outpost (which they measure in “flip flops away” distance!)

18342652_10158566878770328_2085893905154213479_n

It’s now Saturday and all I’ve eaten for dinner is popcorn because I’m still coming down from this week’s food-load! What really stood out to me about this week is how welcoming the marketing department was towards their interns. We were invited to these events (even the meeting & team-building day!) and were treated as any other employee in the group. We lucked out that there was room at these lunches, and our boss was kind enough to extend an invitation to us.

Now that classes have finished it’s been nice to be able to spend so much time at/with the zoo and get to know new people! This internship has truly been a wonderful experience. I’m so glad I get to continue.

Now, on a non-food note, I have been working on my capstone project, auditing the narrations in the park and have heard quite a few so far. On Monday I’ll head back in and spend the whole day visiting the different talks/encounters/etc. Can’t wait to report back again! In the meantime…I’m gonna go digest.

That’s a Wrap

April 20th was my last day at the Florida Aquarium and as such my last day collecting data. It was a great last day, full of dolphins and sunshine and friendly boat guests. During my 16 weeks (every Thursday) I was able to get 80 surveys filled out. It was definitely a learning experience, figuring out how best to approach people in order to encourage them to volunteer to take the survey both before and after the cruise.

What I learned:

  • The best way to gather volunteers was to wait until the top deck was full of guests and make an announcement over the speakers: I’m a PCGS student, sustainable tourism, dolphin conservation, thank-you prize for volunteers
  • Perhaps for more accurate results I should have asked for one person per family
  • There may have been biases involved- I was worried folks were telling me what they thought I wanted to hear, despite it being anonymous
  • I should have asked for an age-range from the participants
  • The question I had about “what stood out most about this cruise” was inconsistent as sometimes we saw dolphins and sometimes we didn’t. This made the option “seeing wild dolphins” unavailable to some guests.
  • The FLAQ boat captains & crew (MarineOps) are really great people 🙂

If anyone is interested in doing an internship at FLAQ I do recommend it. Particularly if you have the same opportunity that I did, where I was able to suggest my own research project, it was approved, and I got to follow-through. Rebecca was a great point of contact, and I recommend reaching out to her.

In the meantime, I decided to extend my zoo internship on the marketing team. Once classes are over it’ll mean that I can spend more time with the department working on other projects. In the meantime, I continue my usual hotel routes. I also will be working on my capstone at the zoo this summer and I can’t wait!

Until next time!

Rhinos, Penguins, and Internships…oh my!

Things have picked up quite a bit with the zoo and the aquarium, so I haven’t blogged in a while. The aquarium surveys are going well, I’ve gotten 10 people taking the survey each day the last few attempts. The dolphins have also been cooperating, so that’s nice. The zoo has opened up its “Dinos Alive” exhibit, which has meant a lot of marketing opportunities for us interns, as well as some fun on-site. We’ve been delivering dinosaur themed gifts to the local hotel employees, including “mochasaurus” and “tea-rex” mugs. I also attended Feast with the Beasts, an evening where local restaurants came to the zoo and provided endless samples. At this event the zoo was also open to the guests, and it was great fun to drink wine while watching the elephants frolic.

Most exciting recently was when the marketing team was invited to attend the rhino encounter, where we fed one of the rhinos and were given a short introduction to rhino biology and conservation. This talk was also the start of my capstone project, where I will be assessing the narrations on-site, so it was incredibly valuable.

Here are some recent photos from my internships, one is during the rhino feeding, the other is a selfie with Rocky at FLAQ.

“I Do at the Zoo”

The Knot, the “#1 trusted authority for all things wedding” as it says on their website, held an informational meeting today at the zoo. This is a quarterly meeting held at different venues throughout the year for those who work locally in the wedding industry. The zoo does host weddings and decided to also host this meeting this quarter. It was super interesting to see how the zoo sets up for a wedding and I even got to meet a clouded leopard cub (one of the “animal ambassadors” that may make an appearance at a wedding held on-site) and a snake. I got to hear some marketing techniques used to snag the millennials, as the theme of this meeting focused on how to get millennials to go to contract with you (be it vendors, florists, photographers, wedding planners, you name it). It was super interesting, being someone going through this process now as “the bride”, and learning the techniques used by vendors to land me as a client. Some things I identified with, others I did not. Some recommendations I thought were great, others I was’t too sure about (using LinkedIn to connect with your brides & grooms?) Overall, it was a fun experience and I even walked away with a copy of The Knot magazine (hello, planning!) and a zoo themed mug for their new Dinos exhibit.

Oh yeah…everyone go see the Dinos!!

Quick Dolphin Update

This post is going to be a quick one!

My surveying at the aquarium is still working out some kinks. Some of the naturalists/narrators will mention that I’m on board, others do not. Yesterday I took the microphone a couple of times to give my rundown about the survey, but did not individually approach groups of people. The best success I had was when I made an announcement as folks were standing in line, and then with the naturalist mentioning (3 times!) that I was on board doing this survey. Then I made myself accessible to guests on board and asked a few if they’d want to take it. I do now have some little goodies to give out to those who take the survey and perhaps that will help next week. Every day is different in the way guests are brought on board and which naturalist is presenting, so I have to be flexible, but also have to figure out the best way to go about this project that works best in all scenarios.

Despite my lack of participation with the survey, we did have a wonderful cruise yesterday. We reached just before the point we usually turn back to head to the dock when we found ourselves in the middle of a feeding nursery group. The naturalist pointed out that their behavior was very odd, and she believed that a female in that pod may have been giving birth. I agree that the behavior was a bit strange but didn’t even consider that possibility! We saw them from about 50 ft out and then close enough to the boat that if we could reach the water we could have touched them. What was so strange was that they hung out in that spot right next to the boat. Usually, when dolphins are checking out boats that are passing through they still move around and give what I refer to as the “sideways eye”, where they continue to travel but keep one eye on the boat. Not yesterday, they were seemingly hovering right next to the vessel. I’d never seen 3 dolphins do that at once!

That’s all I’ve got this week! But here’s a picture from the trip!

dolphin

“Someone Told Me it’s All Happening at the Zoo”

Yesterday was my first day at the zoo! Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has been my favorite zoo since the first time I visited, despite having grown up close to the famous Bronx Zoo. Something about Lowry Park Zoo is just different, and yesterday I was able to put a finger on it. It’s the people. We visit zoos to see the animals and maybe learn something new, but we rarely take into account the people that make the zoo what it is!

I met with Pam, who I will refer to as my boss, when I walked in yesterday morning. I got a very warm greeting and was introduced to the educator who would be giving us our behind-the-scenes tour that morning. I was a bit early and we got to chatting about how long he’d worked there, where he had worked before (Florida Aquarium’s summer camp– just like me! One year before!), and a little bit about the zoo. What stood out to me most, other than his abundance of knowledge about the animals, was how he knew every single person we passed on the tour and always greeted them with a warm hello. I’m not sure if anyone else has experience this before, where you walk into a place and instantly feel just…right, but that’s what happened yesterday.

After the tour we met back up with our boss (myself and three other interns) and went over our responsibilities as the Contemporary Marketing Team. We then met the other marketing and sales staff, who were all incredibly friendly and eager to have our help. One of the full-time veterinarians happened to be in the marketing office, and asked what I was studying. I mentioned my undergrad was in animal science and I’m currently working on my degree in sustainable tourism. He lit up and asked “at the Patel College at USF?” I — of course — replied, yes, and he mentioned wanting to connect to talk about working together on a project. Of course, again, I said yes! I can’t wait to see what we come up with! Finally, when we met some more of the staff, my boss had me mention what I was studying to these folks (because I’m the only non-marketing/advertising/communications intern), they too were eager to get together and talk. One woman went so far as to say they need to set up a meeting with me. I truly hope that we can all get together and chat about ideas for the zoo. I knew that this internship was going to be an interesting one, studying something I haven’t done before, but I didn’t realize how quickly I could make connections and put my sustainable tourism degree to use in different ways! Can’t wait to get back to it next week!

 

And now for something completely different

After a relaxing break, I got started at both of my internships this week. The first was with Lowry Park Zoo’s Contemporary Marketing Team, where I went through an initial orientation and a small walk-through of the zoo (which happens to be my favorite zoo!) My specific CMT coordinator has been in touch about a start date for the week of the 16th, and I can’t wait to get started. I don’t have any specific “marketing” experience other than what I have done as an marine science educator. I’m excited to see what skills translate between education and marketing and hopefully learn a lot more!

Today I observed the Wild Dolphin Tour at the Florida Aquarium, where I am doing– yes, I know– another internship. What’s great about this internship is that I got to design it. I went forward to the volunteer coordinator for FLAQ (who we at PCGS now have a partnership with…and she is fantastic!) and told her what I was interested in. As a sustainable tourism student, my interests lie in the role/responsibility that AZA accredited zoos and aquariums have in teaching the public about sustainability and conservation. For this internship, I’m looking particularly at the effect their Wild Dolphin Cruise messaging has in inspiring Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin conservation knowledge and efforts. I am curious to see if after the cruise, any behaviors (of the guests) are potentially going to change. It’s been challenging coming up with an unbiased survey, and I hope it does the trick! I’m asking things such as “have you heard of dolphin SMART before?”, “how likely are you to recommend this cruise?” and “would you be willing to donate to a bottlenose dolphin conservation effort?” both before and after the cruise to see if there was a spark of inspiration from the cruise narration. I have no idea if this is going to work- but that’s the great thing about this internship! I get to try and see what happens.

I’m looking forward to reporting on more as I continue!

Be Green: The Planet Will Thank You!

When you know all about the terrible things plastic does to innocent sea creatures and the fact that it basically never goes away, you become conscious about using plastic utensils or reducing energy. However, if you’re disconnected from the world of sustainability and haven’t learned much about plastics or just avoid anything related to environmental doom and gloom on a regular basis, it’s easy to not think about how to save energy and reduce waste.

During my internship, I tried to make daily life in the office a little greener. Our company trademark color is green, so it’s an easy tie in and I even used the slogan “don’t just wear green, be green” in one of the tips. It’s hard to inform people on how to change their ways without making them feel as if you’re scolding them. Sure I can tell someone, “don’t use that plastic knife, it’s bad for the environment,” but if they’ve been working all day and are just trying to cut into the leftover dinner they brought for lunch, they really aren’t in the mood to be lectured.

I made a sign and posted it in the office kitchen as just a friendly reminder of how people can do their part. These tips are also incorporated into the sessions I created for teaching the home office staff about sustainable tourism, just as a reminder on how to make travel and daily life better.

I did have a people ask me about the sign. I always use reusable utensils that I wash and keep at work. It’s positive to see that some of the office staff has started to do the same. A lot of people were happy to tell me that they do carpool to work, something that is especially beneficial for those that live up to an hour away.

Another positive improvement that has come from this “Be Green” campaign is more recycling in the office. Even though we don’t a formalized recycling program in the office, people have started to question why and hopefully one will be implemented soon. There is a paper-recycling bin and many people now take their extra office papers to this bin instead of putting them in their regular trash cans.

Below are the tips from the Be Green campaign:

  • Climate Change (1).pngFill it up: Skip the bottled water and use a refillable water bottle at work. There’s always cold, filtered water in the kitchen for you to fill it up with!
  • Bring your lunch: Reduce waste by packing your lunch with reusable utensils and Tupperware containers. Hey, it’ll even save you money!
  • Travel Green: Find members of the Home Office Team who live near you and carpool to work. This will also help save you money and make your commute more fun!
  • Go Dark: Turn off the lights when you leave and remember to shut down your computer when leaving for the day.
  • Recycle paper: Not only can you help out by printing less documents, but also remember to recycle your leftover papers in the bin by the main printer.
  • Start small: Every little bit helps to make the planet a better place. Don’t just wear green, be green!

 

 

 

 

How Can We Make Sustainable Tourism Catch On?

I truly believe that sustainable tourism is the way of the future and with the leadership of major travel companies, we can make huge strides in making sustainable tourism mainstream. What I have found throughout my internship is that people want to make travel better and they are genuinely interested in learning about sustainable tourism and responsible travel, however they still don’t fully understand and to be honest, I don’t think the travel companies really understand how to fill in the gaps. Some companies tout their sustainable practices proudly while others hide them pages deep in their website. Everyone uses different terms like community impact, environmental commitment, global citizenship, sustainability, our promise, etc. and for travelers, this information can be confusing and vague.

As a part of my webinar series I created for my internship to present to travel agents, I tried to explain sustainable tourism in the simplest way possible:

  • Sustainable Tourism: “Tourism that respects both local people and the traveller, cultural heritage and the environment”… while ensuring “future tourists and tourism businesses can enjoy and profit from the same destinations.” (A combination of UNESCO wording a wording from Sewing Seeds of Change)

Basically:

  • Sustainable Tourism is Better Tourism
    • Better for the traveler
    • Better for the community visited
    • Better for the planet
  • Sustainable Tourism is about being a Responsible Traveler

And most importantly:

  • ANY type of travel can be Sustainable Travel 

What I’ve found when discussing sustainable tourism with people at the office and with travel advisors is that the buzzwords ecotourism and voluntourism always come up. These are great but I always stress these are part of sustainable tourism, but not quite the whole package.

F13220573_1186658298014017_7508145138412162820_o.jpgor example, I recently went on a Fathom cruise. Fathom is well known in the travel industry right now for being the first American cruise to sail to Cuba in recent time. The cruise line also sails to the Dominican Republic where passengers take part in Impact + Travel activities on shore and also engage in social innovation workshops on board. The shore excursions include reforestation efforts, teaching english, assisting at a woman’s cooperative, and laying cement floors for families. While many guests on board really bought in to the whole “we’re making a difference” thing, I felt a little disenfranchised. These aren’t feelings I included in my webinar series – because I do think Fathom is a great way for some people to take baby steps towards sustainable tourism – however I just couldn’t help but feeling like Fathom missing the boat on creating an amazing sustainable tourism opportunity. For instance, the cruise line doesn’t have an environmental commitment listed on their website and the only mention of one on board was to please reuse your towels and don’t throw anything overboard. The excursions don’t allow for travelers to make meaningful connections as you only interact with people for minutes at a time in some cases.

If sustainable tourism is going to catch on, companies need to go all in. If you’re going to have travelers volunteering, have them recycling and avoiding plastic straws too. If you’re going on an ecotrek, make sure the money is going back into the community. If you’re leading a cultural immersion tour through Europe, interact with the locals, take your trash with you, and find a fuel efficient bus. While researching sustainable tourism options through the vendors available to travel advisors, it’s difficult to produce a list of lots of companies that have truly sustainable cruises and tours rather than just bits and pieces or an overall company goal to “protect the planet” that has no measurable initiatives attached.

While we wait for companies to go all in, I made sure to stress in my webinars that travelers need to be responsible travelers. This means acting out pillars of sustainable tourism and knowing that the rest of the world might not catch up as quickly, but eventually if we all focus on protecting the environment, supporting communities, and preserving cultures, sustainable tourism will catch on.