Paper maps aren’t meeting expectations anymore — they're an environmental nightmare, less accessible for guests, and often difficult to use. Today, tech-savvy digital natives make up 32% of zoo attendees, and for them, a paper map is about as outdated as a dial-up internet connection. It’s time to ditch the paper.
Exploration is often the reason why so many people head to zoos every year, and intuitive navigation tools help them make the most of their adventuring time. Whether it’s locating talks, making quick bathroom stops, finding food outlets, or hurrying to see the cheetahs as they wake up and leave their enclosure.
But it’s not just about getting from A to B. Wayfinding directly impacts guest satisfaction. Let’s break it down a little more by looking at specific ways that interactive zoo wayfinding helps guests focus on the best bits of their zoo visits, when compared to paper or static digital maps.
You may already have a digital map available on your website as a webpage or downloadable PDF file. While digitising is certainly an upgrade, it still doesn’t meet the expectations of a digitally native, Google Maps-using guest.
The problem here is that a static digital map leaves the onus on the guest to do the work for their spatial navigation. They still need to orientate correctly (which can be difficult without any interactivity) and then plot out a route themselves. Even then, they don’t know if they’ve chosen the quickest or most accessible route for their group. The navigational limitations of a paper map are still in the mix, and lead to a poor digital experience that younger generations are going to notice. 69% of Gen Z say that they have less patience with slow or poorly functioning digital experiences than pre-2020—so to bust the friction points, you’ve got to offer more.
Imagine instead that the guests take a quick look at an interactive map on their phone. They can tilt and zoom to orientate themselves using touchscreen methods they’re very familiar with, and then use recognisable points of interest on the screen to help them understand where they are. After that, they can easily choose their next stop on the map. A few taps, and the platform plots the quickest route. If they need to make a detour for a bathroom break or food stop, they can adjust their routes without any hassle. All in all, the process takes seconds. Not only is it easy to use, it’s familiar.
A group of young twenty-somethings have different priorities to a mum with two children. But, both sets of guests want to customise routes for their party, the time they have, and their interests. And these plans are also likely to change (especially if there are children involved).
Interactive wayfinding enables guests to see what they want to see in the most efficient time possible. That group of twenty-somethings might have a favourite animal they want to make a beeline for, whereas the small family might want to see as much as possible during their day. With everything from animals to talks to food outlets listed as points of interest on the map, you’ll help guests tailor their trips, maximising their visit and maintaining their interest.
In the UK, around 43% of working-age adults have some sort of mobility issue, and this will affect them making their way around a park if there’s uneven terrain. Interactive wayfinding opens up accessibility by identifying where guests might encounter problems and planning around them. Or, if uneven terrain is unavoidable, the platform flags the issue with a helpful warning note to keep your guests informed.
As well as aiding with mobility, interactive wayfinding offers adjustable text sizes to help those with visual impairments. And, if your international guests do not speak your language, multilingual support helps you create an inclusive environment for guests from all corners of the globe.
Zoos are world leaders in green behaviours, but paper maps detract from all the huge steps towards sustainability you’ve made. By switching to a digital map, you could reduce paper waste by up to 95% and see other environmental benefits:
Guests are more likely to support your brand. 70% of consumers say sustainability is now more important to them when selecting products than it was two years ago. And, 84% of customers say that poor environmental practices will alienate them from a brand or company. By promoting your pledge to sustainability through a digital map, you’ll align more guests to your cause.
Pathways and enclosures are clear of waste. Even if all of your guests pop their paper maps in a recycling bin at the end of their trip, there’s still a risk of that paper waste blowing away and cluttering up your pathways. Or, it could end up directly inside enclosures and pose risks to animal welfare. Switching to a digital map keeps your zoo clean and your animals safe.
You’ll save money on printing costs. ZooTampa in Florida were eager to lead by example when it came to sustainable practices. They ditched their paper maps and passes in exchange for a digital map and it resulted in over $50,000 saved in yearly printed costs. That money could then be used for adding new technologies to complement their existing digital offering.
You’ll be able to make updates on the fly, meaning you’ll cut out excessive reprints, keeping your ongoing environmental impact down. ZooTampa found this very valuable in their quest to lead by example.
“If we have a new baby animal born or there’s a new experience, we don’t have to throw away maps that are outdated; we can simply update our app on the spot." —Sandra Torres, Director of Communications at ZooTampa.
Increasing engagement with educational content is a top objective for many zoos. With a paper map, you’re wrestling with page space to add any meaningful learning resources. Chances are, if you do get extra text or images on there, your map ends up looking cluttered and difficult to read.
Interactive wayfinding on a digital map opens up learning opportunities by housing content neatly within clickable points of interest. If your guests are heading over to the Gelada monkey enclosure for example, they can tap to learn more about why the male monkeys have bright red chests, what their typical diet looks like, and any other relevant content that guests may want to know. Satisfying curiosity is what zoos strive for, and a digital map gives them a centralised hub to deliver it.
Yorkshire Wildlife Park were finding their traditional guides and static information boards weren’t sparking the level of curiosity they wanted. With interactive wayfinding inside a mobile app platform, they were able to digitally streamline their offering while promoting content that inspired their guests to protect the natural world. App store reviews raved about the interactive wayfinding feature helping them navigate the 260 acre-large park and find their way to specific enclosures and talks during their visit.
Your interactive wayfinding doesn’t just have to be a navigational tool. With a little bit of magic, it can easily turn into an exciting host for a treasure hunt, where points of interest on your map become mysterious stops in an unfolding story. Your wayfinding feature can act as a guide, engaging young adventurers on a journey through your park. Gamification has been shown to increase engagement at zoos, and young children are a prime audience for this style of content.
And you can take things even further by pairing your wayfinding with other new-age tech. Augmented reality (AR) enables children to point their devices at certain locations or exhibits and reveal virtual treasures or animals, making their treasure hunt more engaging and educational with fun facts about the animals or conservation messages.
Paper maps and downloadable static digital maps have their limitations, it’s time to move towards interactivity. By incorporating interactive zoo wayfinding, you’ll better meet the expectations of digital native guests and provide an exploration experience that promotes satisfaction, education, and engagement. You’ll foster an inclusive environment for guests of all ages and abilities, and encourage behaviours that align with your sustainability goals.
If you’re just starting your digitisation journey, or you’re interested in learning more about how interactive zoo wayfinding can enhance your current digital offering, click here.