Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Coming out on Top

Everyone had a hand in promoting the vote
Earlier this year we found ourselves in the running for Eden TV's Top Wildlife Attraction 2011. "Why not?" we thought. 

Then we saw the competition; Paignton Zoo, Flamingo Land, Isle of Wight Zoo, Woburn Safari Park, not to mention last year's run-away winners, Knowsley Safari Park. All in all, there were 20 well established attractions with decades of experiences and regular visitor numbers well in excess of our own. Images of David and Goliath came to mind.

Understandably, this gave us pause for thought.

Undaunted we soldiered on. The voting cards and promotional posters arrived and we got to work making sure that our visitors knew we were depending on their support to avoid total embarrassment at the hands of the country's top attractions.

Whilst we were very much encouraged by the enthusiastic support we received from our visitors, we didn't dare to think that we were in with a chance of winning. The mathematics were hard to ignore; even if a large percentage of our visitors chose to honour us with their vote, the sheer numbers of visitors to the other attractions would surely dwarf our own modest contribution.

Getting up-dates from the organisers of the event on how we were progressing wasn't easy. However, we quickly began to realise that, to borrow a well-worn cliche, winning wasn't everything. Once given the opportunity to express their support, the feedback we were getting from our visitors was extremely encouraging.

The majority of this feedback came via our newly established and undeniably fantastic team of (mostly volunteer) presenters, whilst hard at work on their customer engagement duties. This literally entails getting one-to-one with visitors talking about the animal collection, our education and conservation efforts and gathering feedback on their experience.

Social media played an important role. Our Facebook page and profile along with our Twitter account were put to good use directing supporters to the on-line voting facility, but again our impressive following in this realm is still very modest by comparison to some of the other attractions.

The large pile in the centre is the DZP vote
It wasn't until about half way through the summer holiday that we received the incredible news that we might actually be in with a chance when we received this photograph from the offices of the organisers, Mediator Ltd. It's from the desk of the poor person counting the votes:

It was proof positive that the competition had become a two horse race and, astonishingly, we were one of them.

As encouraging as this news was, we didn't let it go to our heads. There was still lots of time left before the closing date for votes and those unavoidable visitor numbers just wouldn't go away; surely the likes of Woburn Safari Park and Paignton Zoo would streak past us before the finish.

Towards the end of the summer holidays our visitors continued to provide lots of encouragement and our followers in the various social media were vocal in their support among their social networks. We even reached a stage when we were rapidly running out of voting cards at the zoo, such was the demand. And no amount of pleading with the organisers would convince them to replenish.

Then came the results.

It seems that we had seriously underestimated the power of our visitors. The groundswell of enthusiastic support had resulted in Dartmoor Zoo taking over 27 per cent of the entire vote placing us in a very comfortable first ahead of The Monkey Sanctuary with our friends at Paignton Zoo coming in third.

This wonderful news is still sinking in around here. It really is very heartwarming and quite humbling to see that the genuine support among our fairly modest visit numbers is sufficient to overwhelm that of our most serious competitors.

The staff and volunteers at DZP work extremely hard to ensure that the visitor experience is the best it can possibly be and this wonderful show of support demonstrates that for many, that's exactly what they've had.

We'd like to thank all our supporters for making this possible and we look forward to working even harder to live up to the title of, Top Wildlife Attraction 2011.

The DZP Newsletter