predictive of whether visitors experienced immediate and longer-term changes in their attitudes and knowledge.
To test these ideas, Falk and his team embarked on a 3-year collaboration between ILI, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Specifically, they were interested in finding out if visitors to zoos and aquariums left with a greater appreciation of and deeper commitment to animal conservation.
Using a variety of research instruments, the team set out to test how many visitors could be categorized into the five identity categories and if each group showed distinctive behaviors during their visit. After collecting data from more than 5,500 visitors to 12 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, they found that although people had many reasons for visiting that did not fit neatly into a single category, the majority (55 percent) did have one dominant identity-related motivation that predicted how they experienced the setting and what they derived from it.
Explorers, who according to Falk’s model are curiosity-driven and interested in learning more as a result of the zoo or aquarium experience, were satisfied with the chance to see animals and learn more about them, although they reported that their visit did not add to their knowledge or change their attitudes about conservation.
Facilitators, who, along with explorers, represent the two dominant visitor groups, focused on helping the members of their social group enjoy the experience and learn from it. In this study, facilitators were looking for a social experience that benefited members of their social groups. Parents, for example, reported wanting to ensure that their children enjoyed their visit.
Professionals/Hobbyists, although a small group of visitors (10 percent), are important because they feel connected to zoos and aquariums, largely because their offerings match the particular interests of this group. Professionals/hobbyists reported looking for specialized programs, such as photo tours, dive trips, how-to workshops, and theme nights.
Experience seekers enjoy new experiences and visit museums and other sites that are considered to be important. In this study, they made up 8 percent of the visitors and reported visiting as tourists or to support the community. As a group, they were the only ones to show a scientifically reliable positive gain in knowledge as well as a change in attitudes toward conservation. This finding could be explained by the fact that they arrived with the least amount of reported knowledge and the lowest expectation for their visit.