Where the Wild Things Are

by Maureen Leader

It used to be that when planners needed to plan an event the only choices they had were the local hotel or restaurant banquet facilities. Or, event planners who really wanted to get creative might have considered other options like the local repurposed space in the city where their event was being held. Having their event there was trendy, added an extra flair for their attendees and everyone could feel good about supporting the city where they are staying.

There is nothing wrong with these spaces; they did get the job done. Rooms were set up the way planners envisioned. Tables and chairs were exactly where they were supposed to be. Speeches and toasts were delivered flawlessly, the food came out on time, and most of the time, the technology did not fail.

Detroit Zoo

But today’s event planners are looking for much more. Their attendees are also looking for so much more. Often employees on their way to the annual sales meeting want to include their entire family on the business trip. They welcome family-friendly activities around their business activities. Spending so much time at work, it’s a nice perk to be able to bring their family along on a fun trip. Plus, being at the same sales meeting, or training year after year does get monotonous. It’s tough to get re-motivated year after year; employees need more and corporate knows this. They look to their event planners to bring the excitement to their teams.

Wedding couples, too, are also looking for different, attention-getting event options. Dizzy with ideas from Pinterest and other sites, they are bursting with ideas on how they want their wedding to stand out from all their friends’. They, too, are looking for something different, something fun. Plus, they want to please their family and friends. They want everyone to have a good time. And they, too, look at their planners to help them make their dreams come true.

Event planners have been feeling this pressure from these and, as well as, all their clients. Competition and demand are fierce. They know they need to kick it up a notch. And now they can by exploring some local options not often considered. They need to get away from the typical cookie cutter “brown box” event space, think outside of that box, and get a little wild—

Yes, a little wild at a local aquarium or zoo!

That’s right. Did you know that many zoos and aquariums have event facilities and spaces available for events just like any banquet hall or venue? Flexible spaces, technology, and onsite culinary services —just like you’d find at any other venue—are also available. And zoos and aquariums also offer the same expertise of full, professional event planning departments to assist you with every aspect of your event—just like at any other venue.

But the one big difference you will find by holding your event at a venue like a zoo or an aquarium is the experience your attendees will have. Having your event at places like these gives you so much more than any other venue. These spaces provide memorable experiences that you can easily incorporate into your meeting agenda. Can you imagine a wedding, sales meeting, presentation, seminar or party including a behind the scenes look at zoo animals’ feedings, guest appearances with animals, or dining within the walls of an aquarium?

Vancouver Aquarium

Megan Gregg, the senior events manager at the Detroit Zoo, says many people simply don’t realize that local zoos are options to consider for their events. The Detroit Zoo can accommodate 5,000 guests in their 10 meeting rooms. Megan says the Detroit Zoo puts on some 200 events a year. They include charity walks, picnics, birthdays, corporate events, retreats, youth birthday parties, wedding ceremonies and receptions, and more. They offer a wide variety of space options including theaters, roof tops, and outdoor spaces. She says event planners are blown away when they see they can have their meetings, dinners, cocktail receptions, or presentations in spaces like the Polk Penguin Conservation Center with its amazing views of the penguins. Or the Frederick and Barbara Erb Polar Passage with breathtaking underwater views of polar bears and seals. The zoo can also be rented during the evening for a spectacular one of a kind private event after it closes. It adds an entirely different atmosphere to an event.

Riddhima Asri, catering and events sales manager of the Vancouver Aquarium, agrees. She says they’ve been holding events at the aquarium for over 25 years and that their event spaces are really “hidden gems” for planners. They’re “miles away” from the typical event space and offer so much more. “The amazing living backdrops we provide of over 50,000 aquatic animals are pretty amazing,” she says. “It’s a definite ‘wow’ factor.” The Vancouver Aquarium can accommodate all kinds of events—corporate, wedding receptions, and celebrations for up to 2,000 guests also in a wide variety of space layouts.

Riddhima stresses that though they have a dedicated event planning team at the Vancouver Aquarium, “Animal care is our top priority.” But happily, that mission walks hand in hand with the events they hold there as all funds from the events go to conservation research and education programs like the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, the Ocean Wise Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, and the Ocean Research Institute. “Planners can definitely feel good about holding their event here,” Riddhima said. “They are contributing to a greater good.”

Riddhima is also especially proud of the Vancouver Aquarium's on-site culinary team, able to create a wide variety of menus for every taste and occasion. She notes the aquarium’s Ocean Wise executive chef, Ned Bell, long-time sustainable seafood ambassador based at the aquarium. The Vancouver Aquarium is an Ocean Wise initiative, a conservation program created to educate and empower consumers about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood. It helps ensure long-term health and stability of the marine ecosystem. It’s yet another benefit planners and attendees can feel good about by holding their event there.

Vancouver Aquarium

Corporate event planners should consider zoos and aquariums for their next sales meeting or professional seminar for several reasons. At zoos or aquariums corporate events suddenly become family-friendly events. Employees’ children will never forget it. Unlike having an event at a sports venue – where not everyone likes the sport, at a zoo or aquarium there is something for everyone. This can make what can be a dull business event, into a fun time for the entire family. Additionally, breaks and downtime from business sessions can have exciting options with the animals at a venue like a zoo or aquarium. Riddhima Asri compared this to what is done at a typical event venue, said, “Some hotels think a fun interactive break is by adding candy to their coffee.”

Zoos and aquariums are also popular venues for couples to hold their wedding ceremonies and receptions. It might be because they had their first date there, or maybe they love animals, but often it is because they want something light, fun, and different. A stuffy, traditional venue won’t do. The wide variety of live backdrops at zoos and aquariums deliver an unforgettable experience for these couples.

Detroit Zoo

Jenn Van Leuvan, events manager, and Ashley Mars, marketing manager of the Virginia Zoo say the zoo is the perfect place for a wide variety of events and planners should consider them. In fact, many people are surprised at the number of options available there. Planners are especially impressed with the number of truly lovely outdoor spaces they can offer. The garden spaces are especially lovely for weddings or cocktail parties. Who knew such spaces were available at a zoo?

The Virginia Zoo is also especially conducive for groups with a lot of families. Company picnics, vendor thank you day events, family reunions and parties. Leuvan and Mars especially noted that in the evening the zoo takes on a special aura making an event there extra special.

Virginia Zoo

The Virginia Zoo also offers many different types of meeting spaces—including classrooms making it ideal for professional business meetings. The difference is breakout sessions can take place in the reptile building, an animal habitat. And breaks can include a close educational encounter with another animal. It really adds an exciting element to any meeting or reception. “That makes it really fun,” said Mars.

Another benefit with choosing the zoo as an event venue is that proceeds do support animal causes. Proceeds from events held at the Virginia Zoo benefit conservation causes around the world. The zoo has different annual causes, supporting different species. This proves to be quite meaningful to event planners and their guests. “Holding an event at the Virginia Zoo really makes a difference,” Mars and Leuvan agreed.

So, for your next event think about raising the level of the experience for your guests. Think about jazzing it up; adding something different and giving attendees and their families something to really look forward to. All it takes is just looking outside the box. All it takes is just getting a little wild.

Detroit Zoo

Royal Oak, MI | 248-336-5805

Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver, BC, Canada | 604-659-3456

Virginia Zoo

Norfolk, VA | 757-441-2374 ext. 250

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