Lead with Your Mission, with Dr. Chris Kuhar

Episode 164

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Executive Director of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo since 2012, Dr. Christopher Kuhar manages the Zoo’s extensive animal collection and oversees the daily operations of the 183-acre facility. Since joining Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in 2008, he has also served as Curator of Primates and Small Mammals and Curator of Animals. Prior to that, Dr. Kuhar was the Research Manager at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, where he studied animal behavior for nearly five years. He previously worked as a Research Assistant at Zoo Atlanta from 2000 to 2003 and at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo from 1997 to 2000. Dr. Kuhar received his Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Akron in 1997, his Master of Science in zoology from Oklahoma State University in 2000 and his doctorate in experimental psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2004. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors for four years, Dr. Kuhar has served as the Board Liaison to the Animal Welfare Committee, and as a member of the Safety Committee, Animal Population Management Committee, Research and Technology Committee as well as multiple TAGS and SSPs. Kuhar also serves as an AZA Executive Leadership Development Program mentor. In this episode of Destination on the Left, Executive Director of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Dr. Christopher Kuhar, joins us to discuss his branding strategy for the zoo. He talks about leading with the mission to increase awareness of the work organizations are doing behind the scenes.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How zoos are weaving their mission into their brand story
  • Why balance is so important
  • How the Cleveland Zoo became part of an award-winning special parks district
  • How Dr. Kuhar and his team redesigned the messaging strategy
  • What visitors want to know about your destination
  • How Cleveland Metroparks Zoo stands out from its competitors
  • Projects that Dr. Kuhar and his team are currently working on

Rebranding the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Dr. Christopher Kuhar is the Executive Director of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, where he manages the Zoo’s animal collection and oversees the daily operations. In Dr. Kuhar’s current role, he is leading the Cleveland Zoo into a new chapter with an emphasis on conservation, education, and animal welfare. On top of the massive additions to infrastructure and exhibits that have already been completed, Dr. Kuhar and his team are changing the way that they talk about themselves to the public. Traditionally, zoos have always focused their marketing budget on getting people through the front gates. But there is amazing work happening behind the scenes and Dr. Kuhar is making an effort to weave it into the brand.

What are You Doing to Make the World a Better Place?

For the travel industry in general, there has been a major shift as far as what people are looking for when they travel; and there is a greater concern for the environments they are stepping into. The impact visitors have on the destinations they visit and the footprints they leave behind are out in the open, so brands like the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo have capitalized on opportunities to talk about the work they are doing. In polling data from the AZA, Dr. Kuhar and his team have gathered a significant amount of information about their visitors—and they found that the desire to see destination organizations making the world a better place is near the top of the list. That is something every DMO can leverage.

How Do You Show Up in the World?

Many guests at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo are completely unaware of the impact Dr. Kuhar and his team are making, so that was a major driver behind the new messaging. They wanted to highlight the conservation work they have been doing for the last twenty years and lead with their mission in every advertisement and every piece of content on social media. So far, this has increased awareness from 50% to 90% and it has even increased attendance from demographics that would normally be considered outliers. How your brand shows up in the world is directly correlated to a traveler’s decision to visit your destination. So, if you want to learn more about Dr. Kuhar’s successful rebrand of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, listen in.

Nicole Mahoney: 00:19 Hello listeners, welcome to this week, this episode and my conversation with dr Christopher [inaudible], executive director of Cleveland Metro parks zoo. I love talking with folks from all different segments of the tourism industry because it helps me gain understanding of how the whole tourism ecosystem works together. If you’ve been a long time listener of this show, do you know how much I believe in coopertition? It’s what happens when perceived competitors come together to create something bigger than they can do on their own. I am also a firm believer that a strong tourism industry cannot be built on silos. All segments must work together to create the type of strong visitor economy that makes our communities thrive. In today’s conversation, we will dive into how zoos across the country are weaving their mission into their brand story. Why balance is so important and how the Cleveland zoo as part of an award winning special parks district.

Nicole Mahoney: 01:15 A little more about Chris before we get started. He served as curator of animals at Cleveland Metroparks zoo prior to being promoted to executive director in January of 2013 [inaudible]. In his current role, Chris is leading the zoo into a new phase with an emphasis on conservation education, an animal welfare under his leadership. The zoo has completed the circle of wildlife carousel, nature, discovery Ridge, the nature play area, Stillwater place, event center, Ben Goggling giraffe encounter Rosen bro. Tiger passage, a zoo hay barn, the Jack Joseph and Morton Mandel welcome pavilion in Asian Highlands. The Jack Joseph and Morton Mandel welcome pavilion opened in early June, 2018 featuring videos and informational signage about the Zeus future for wildlife conservation programs, creating a more engaging guest experience focused on conservation. Also opening in 2018 was the Asian Highlands, a new state of the art exhibit that is home to the zoos. AMR leopard, no leopard.

Nicole Mahoney: 02:20 Red pandas [inaudible]. Chris is currently leading the zoo’s changes to the current rhino habitat in the zoos African Savannah, including an additional outdoor rhino yard that will more than double the size of the zoo’s current habitat for its Eastern [inaudible] rhino herd of five. Now let’s get into the interview. So Chris, thank you so much for joining us today on destination on the left. Um, I know you have so much information to share with us, but before we get into the questions, um, could you tell us a little bit about your story and, and how you got to where you are today? I find it adds so much more context to our conversation.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 03:00 Sure. Thanks for having me Nicole. Um, yeah, I wish I had some really cool story to tell you that I knew all along I was going to be a zoo director, but I don’t have anything like that. I sort of stumbled into zoos as a career. I was a biology major as an undergrad and I took an animal behavior course and as part of that course we were asked to go and collect data on a non domestic animal. And I ended up just because I thought that chimpanzees were coy. I ended up at the Cleveland Metropark zoo just doing a college project on a chimpanzee behavior. And through that experience, I got to meet a number of the keepers who are working here and really kinda got it behind the scenes as to what zoos were doing. And it really fell in love with the mission of zoos, um, and, and more than just sort of the, the zoo as a visitor experience, cause I didn’t understand what was going on behind the scenes.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 03:50 And after that experience, I ended up wanting to stay connected and ended up going to graduate school at Oklahoma state and then eventually at Georgia tech where I got to work through a zoo Atlanta and spend some time there learning more about the, the animal management side and the conservation side. And then, uh, that led to a stent as a postdoc at, uh, Disney’s animal kingdom. Again, we’re learning more on the animal management side and eventually I got to come back home to Cleveland as an animal curator. So I spent my first three years back in Cleveland, uh, doing animal management largely around primates cause that was my background. But when the opportunity for a zoo director, uh, presented itself and Steve Taylor retired here after 24 years, I sort of threw my name in the ring. And in, here we are seven years later. I’ve been the executive director here now for seven years.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:40 Well, I would say that’s an interesting story and I do love that you started as a biology major since I have a daughter right now who was in college studying biology. So.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 04:49 Excellent. Yeah, that’s great.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:51 See where that degree can take you. Um, but also, uh, how, how interesting is that though, that from that first early experience that you were, you know, your interest is peaked and kind of put you on this path where you’re able to go to the zoo Atlanta and then eventually to animal kingdom, which I’m sure must have been an amazing ride variance. Um, and I really love how you pointed out that there’s so much more happening behind the scenes than just the visitor experience, right? The animal management and the things that happen.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 05:20 Yeah. I don’t think that historically zoos have done a real good job about talking about the mission side to zoos. You know, when you, when you look at historically where zoos have been with our marketing budget, the marketing budget has been, uh, put towards, uh, getting people through the front gate. And that’s often advertising, you know, uh, you know, special deals or you know, an animal or things like that. Um, and really what’s been happening behind the scenes is this real growth of science and this growth of conservation. And that hasn’t shown up. Uh, and so recently in houses talked about themselves. So unless you happen to stumble, you know, behind the scenes of like I did, you wouldn’t know that zoos were so heavily involved in conservation and it’s really shaped, um, what my experience is in the zoo and it’s shaped how we, how we’re starting to really talk about zoos in general and, and Arzu specifically.

Nicole Mahoney: 06:10 Yeah. And I, and I’m looking forward to digging into that more with you, cause that was actually going to be one of my questions is that, have you seen that change? Because I think, um, you know, just in a travel and tourism, which a lot, you know, we focus a lot on travel and tourism on the show. There has been this change in terms of what people are looking for when they travel and there’s this more environmental concern, right, about what it is that we’re, how we’re participating, how we’re showing up in the world and yeah. And what are footprint is, what our impact is. So I’m curious, um, actually how you have seen that [inaudible] change and transition over the years in terms of how you talk about yourself.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 06:49 Yeah. So, I guess from my perspective, you know, we’re part of the association of zoos and aquariums. So, uh, AZA is, we’re known is the premier accrediting body for zoos and aquariums, uh, not only in the U S but North America. And we even have, uh, members internationally. So there’s about 240 members of AZA. And as part of that, uh, that, that organization, I’m, I’m actually, I serve, uh, currently as the board chair of ACA, but as part of that organization, we’ve been doing a lot of, uh, public polling data and asking folks what they think about their zoo experience, what, what motivates them, what demotivates them. And, and what we see in that polling data is that people have a passion around animals and that shows up in two places that shows up in a concern for the care and welfare of those animals. And they may not use the term welfare, but it’s, they want to know that the animals are, are being taken good care of and are having a good quality of life.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 07:42 So, so it shows up there. And it also shows up in a general concern that zoos and organizations in general, cause I think some of this stuff applies to a lot of, of of big companies are big organizations. They want to know that those organizations are doing good. And for us that shows up in doing conservation work. So yeah, it’s great that your bottom line is good, but what are you doing to make the world a better place? And you know, it, it really is fits in the wheelhouse of what zoos and aquariums are doing or at least the accredited zoos and aquariums. Um, in that know there’s this focus on animal care, animal management, animal husbandry and welfare, but also this focus on doing conservation projects in the wows. So what it did was it made a lot of organizations think differently about, gosh, should we be spending a little bit more time putting a little bit more effort into talking about the mission of our organization and not just, Hey, come out to the zoo. We’re fun because people know that, but they don’t know the other piece. And it’s becoming increasingly obvious to us that people want to know that you are doing those good things.

Nicole Mahoney: 08:43 [inaudible] absolutely. And so how, how are you, um, you know, how are you telling that story, uh, at your zoo in Cleveland?

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 08:52 Yeah. Yeah. So in, in Cleveland we have an situation, right where it’s a, it’s a market that’s not growing. I mean I think it’s been well publicized as the struggles that Cleveland has had over the years. Going from what used to be the sixth largest city in the U S earlier and then the 19 hundreds to a city that’s sort of become a punchline, right? So the community is not growing. So how does the zoo maintain or even increase attendance with a population that’s shrinking? And for us it was looking at how do we, what’s a way that we can increase market share, for lack of a better term, what’s a, what’s a way that we can increase our desirability? And one of the approaches that we took to that is just completely rebranding who we are. We changed our logo, we changed our messaging and we really started talking about conservation.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 09:38 Cause we did some, some of our own polling data and found that only 50% of our guests knew that we had been doing conservation programs and we had been doing it for over 20 years. So it was really sad to us because we thought we were communicating that message. We have signs in the zoo and we’ve been doing this work for a long time, but people didn’t know. And we really focused that rebrand around messaging around again. Again, not just that we are fun cause we were that, but also they were doing this great conservation work. So our, our social media channels are, what we’re doing in terms of our advertising and how we talk about ourselves really has, has placed mission in front. And you know, and just a couple of years we’ve seen that number of people who understand that we’re doing conservation work go from 50% to over 90%. So it’s, it’s having an impact and we’re seeing an increased interest in the zoo and probably from a demographic that we, that wasn’t necessarily considering us before we made that change.

Nicole Mahoney: 10:33 Yeah, I think that’s, um, that’s really awesome. And what’s great is that you’re able to track that, that lift and awareness right, prior, uh, prior to your rebrand and to now,

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 10:44 yeah, that comes from being a biologist, right? You got to track the data. It’s sort of inherent in what we do. And we have a lot of scientists on our leadership team, which, which helps them, that recognizing, gosh, where do you have the, where do you have the proof, right? Where, where’s the, where’s that data that shows what you’re doing? Because often we have a gut feeling and honestly, what we’ve learned as a leadership team is often our gut is wrong. It’s better to just ask, um, because then you get the real answer on what people want and what people are expecting out of you.

Nicole Mahoney: 11:16 Right? Exactly. So I think I told you this before we started this conversation that sometimes we don’t follow the exact question flowing on. My listeners are used to the exact questions that I ask every interview. What would I, what I love about this conversation so far is that I think we’ve really hit on, you know, the first couple of questions that I like to ask my guests, but I want to give you the opportunity, cause I know you had this question flow in front of you before we get started, if there is anything else you wanted to add, but really about how you, you know, stand out. Um, there are so many choices and I think you gave such a good context and talking about the markets that you’re in and when you have a market that’s not growing, how do you really, you know, keep people coming and keep people interested and, um, you know, I didn’t know if you wanted to expand any more on that particular piece. Um, but I, I just love how you’ve done this rebrand and really putting mission first.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 12:11 Yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s, it’s a balance. You know, it’s a dance. It’s, it’s certainly a work in progress for us. Um, you know, because as much as we want to put the mission forward, um, we don’t want you to think about coming to the zoo. Like you’re going to class, right? And you’re gonna have to sit for a lecture and you’re gonna, you know, it’s going to sort of become the old guy with a beard and a lab coat. You know, managing your experience. It’s, it’s, it’s not bad. It’s still a fun experience, but it’s, it’s a fun experience that has a connection, um, to things that a lot of people find valuable. So it is, it is. We’re, we’re still trying to find that, that happy medium where we’re really, we’ve got the mission in front, but we’re also still communicating that we’re fun and it is great to see animals and, you know, there’s, there’s babies and there’s activity and all that other sort of stuff. So, uh, finding what’s the best approach, uh, trying to figure out where people are at. That’s still a work in progress, but it’s, it’s opened up new doors for us, that’s for sure.

Nicole Mahoney: 13:07 Yeah, I think that’s terrific actually. Um, what, when you say opened up new doors and what way are you seeing that?

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 13:14 Well, I think what we’re seeing is that what we tend to look at our social media content differently. We’re trying to find new and different ways because often, you know, the, the conservation narrative is complicated, the animal management narrative is complicated and how zoos operate is as complicated. So while there’s a lot of push towards social media, those complicated messages don’t necessarily work well in a, on a social media platform. So, so how do you, how do you summarize that in a, in a, in a sound bite and, and, and get that out in front of people. How do you bring them back for the deeper content? Um, we’re, we’re, we’re still working through that process and trying to find what’s the really the best way. But the more we, the more we do, the more it opens our eyes to though, well, we could try this instead, or this, this message might resonate in a way that we never expected. So we’re work, we’re constantly trying those, uh, ideas and experimenting. And so far the results have been really strong for us.

Nicole Mahoney: 14:09 Yeah, that’s really awesome. I, I just love that because, um, you know, I, I think as you’re talking when I’m thinking about is right, there are these new channels, these new ways to communicate and what that’s doing is forcing you to maybe look at, you know, your passion, look at what you’re doing, look at your mission, um, in a different way. Still being able to communicate the same thing, but be able to communicate it maybe more succinctly and like you just described, carry people on a journey for those that want to know more. Right. And where do they get that?

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 14:40 Yeah, it’s in, it’s interesting because I can vouch, being trained as a scientist, you know, when you’re, when you’re going through graduate school and you, and you’re learning to be a scientist, nobody, you don’t get a good background in communication. You don’t, you don’t get any background in storytelling. What you’re trained is how to talk like a scientist. And that works great for other scientists. It doesn’t necessarily work well to the general public and in the media. So we’re trying to almost find a translator for those, those scientific concepts and those great mission-based concepts. But how do you, how do you tell that story in a way that people really enjoy? Um, and, and like I said, we’re, we’re learning, we’re experimenting and it’s fun.

Nicole Mahoney: 15:20 Yeah, absolutely. Well, and like I mentioned, um, you know, the, the second question I’d love to ask my guests, I think we’ve touched on in so many different ways, but I do want to give you an opportunity to expand on it if you want to. And that is, I just love, you know, the creativity that comes from facing a challenge. And so far we’ve already talked about two one being, you know, the market that you’re in and the stagnant, you know, it’s not a growing market. [inaudible] the second one being, finding new ways to communicate. Right. And learning how to communicate.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 15:48 Yeah. Yeah.

Nicole Mahoney: 15:49 Yeah. And I’m wondering if there’s any, you know, any additional insights that you wanted to share with us on that?

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 15:55 Well, I think, you know, I think the other part of it is I think the days of, and you know what I kind of referred to as [inaudible] curious George version of the zoo. Right? Can you think of the curious George Pixer books and curious. George goes to the zoo and it’s, you know, you buy a balloon and some cotton candy and you walk around in a somewhat park-like setting and there’s lots of concrete and there’s lots of metal bars. But overall it’s a very passive experience and [inaudible] experienced doesn’t work well today with um, you know, with the, with the public that they have a higher expectation for engagement. They have a higher expectation for realism, they have a higher expectation for space and activity and animals. So, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re constantly reevaluating our exhibits, uh, and we’re building out new exhibits that provide those opportunity.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 16:45 And, um, you know, I, aye. So, you know, one of the things we say within our team is that, you know, the best experience is, is good animal behavior. Area of animals are doing what animals do. That’s a, that’s a really good guest experience. So, you know, we’re focusing on it from that side, but then we’re also focusing on some things that we probably didn’t ever think about. You know, we have, you know, we’ve got a carousel has got more activities from an entertainment perspective and just over the past couple of years we’ve been really investing more in events, um, that wouldn’t necessarily think of with the zoo. But when you combine that animal experience with some other event, like our Asian lantern festival, that that’s a whole new dynamic and it’s a whole new demographic of an audience that we’ve just begun to explore.

Nicole Mahoney: 17:29 [inaudible] all those Asian, Atlanta and festivals are amazing too. I could imagine it at the zoo. It’s gotta be really spectacular.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 17:35 Yeah, it’s great because it works on a lot of the, you know, we have a lot of cultural messaging. You know, we try to really talk about the conservation issues and the social issues when, as it relates to animals and our conservation programs. So a cultural amenity, like an Asian lantern festival is not nearly as out of context is that you might think. And when you combine those animal experiences earlier in the evening and then as it gets dark, it transitioned to, to really viewing the animals. It’s a great, great event and it’s been extremely popular here over the past two years.

Nicole Mahoney: 18:04 No, that’s fantastic. I love it. So looking into the future, is there something, a project that you’re working on that you’re particularly excited about that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 18:16 Well, so in 2020, we’re going to be opening our new, uh, Daniel malts rhino reserve. So it’s an expansion of our existing, uh, black rhino exhibit and, and rhinos are a crowd favorite. So it’s always nice to be able to expand the space, be able to, to, uh, exhibit more rhinos and, and the success of our breeding program, we’ve got two young calves and that exhibits, so people really love that. So in 2020, we’re going to be opening that and that’s, that’s a really exciting opportunity, but we’re also going to be bringing back our Asian lantern festival again in 2020. It’ll be the third year in a row and you know, essentially all new lanterns again this year. So it’s a really great, unique experience. Um, and then this year we did wild ones are light. So we did a holiday light show for the first time in about 15 years and that was our first, uh, go round and we’re gonna, you know, excited to explore that for, for 2020. So, you know, in addition to animal exhibits, we’re really sort of building on these events and, and exploring how we can make them more dynamic and you know, different and unique food options and really connecting with people in a different way.

Nicole Mahoney: 19:21 [inaudible] yeah, absolutely. Those all sound amazing. And uh, I loved the twist on a winter lights show again at the zoo. That sounds very different and like a lot of fun as well. That’s so much creativity with these events, I think.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 19:36 I think that’s, that’s where we’re at, right? We have to be creative. Um, and, you know, it’s sorta that innovator die the, you know, because I think people, the way people can access media through technology, it’s, um, you really have to be doing something special to get people, you know, out of their phones in, in, you know, into your organization. So we’re really forced to be innovative and I’m really happy with how our team has responded because I think we’re trying some new stuff and we’re going to keep pushing to, to explore even more.

Nicole Mahoney: 20:06 Yeah. That’s fantastic. So I’m Chris, I, I like to also talk about collaboration, uh, on the show. I think it’s so important, um, you know, especially in our industry and, um, to find ways, especially in, in this, in these modern times to really maximize unexperienced and maximize on, you know, ability to dry and crowds and things like that. And so I’m wondering if there’s a time when a collaboration or a partnership. Yeah.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 20:36 Well, so, yeah, I guess there’s a couple ways that we’ve, we’ve done that. So there’s a lot of great cultural amenities in Cleveland. Uh, you know, for a city our size, we’re probably overloaded cultural amenities, a lot of great, uh, organizations here at the science center and natural history museum. And a lot of us really when the, when the RNC was in Cleveland in 2016, we all sort of joined arms and really figured out how we could, uh, present ourselves to this, this, you know, burst of, uh, you know, travelers from outside of Northeast Ohio. They were descending on us for the Republican national convention. And, uh, we really worked together to try and find ways that we could, um, you know, get ourselves out in front of those folks and, and provide entertainment options to really just get a new set of eyes on all of our organizations.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 21:21 So that was probably one of the sort of unique example. But you know, I mentioned the association of zoos and aquariums earlier and, um, you know, Iowa has a lot of great zoos. You know, there, there’s, there’s Cincinnati, there’s Columbus, there’s Toledo, you know, Akron is just right down the road from us. So there’s this interesting collaboration where we’ll work together when we go to Columbus tech advocate for, for Zu issues or, or funding or whatever. Um, so we’re, you know, we’re partners, but we’re also competing for entertainment dollars. Like I said, you know, Akron is not that far away. Uh, both Toledo and Columbus are within a couple of hours away and they do holiday light shows, for example. So it’s this combination of working together for a common good. All the zoos that are part of AZA or are part of collaborative breeding programs. So we’re breeding animals and where we’re sharing our, uh, our husbandry knowledge and information and providing sustainable animal populations for us. So we’re not having to take animals from the wild. So there’s the, all of that, uh, collaboration and cooperation. Um, but there’s a little bit of competition, right? You know, we’re all seeking that entertainment dollar. So, so we balanced that and we really kind of put that competition aside in most cases and really try to, to share information and, and make sure that we’re all succeeding and, and working on the, on the same page, particularly as it relates to messaging.

Nicole Mahoney: 22:45 Yeah, absolutely. Um, and you know, I think I’m, I’m hearing a theme of our conversation today and that’s the word balance, right? And it’s trying to balance all of this yeah. All of these different relationships or, or, um, you know, different, your, your mission versus the need to raise money, you know, all of those things. It’s just the concept balance and work in progress.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 23:06 Yeah. And the world is becoming increasingly complicated, right. You’re, you’re having to balance a lot of different things in ways that we never had to before. And it’s a good thing. It’s, it’s a good direction that we’re moving in and we’re taking all these considerations into account, but it is new and it is different and you have to make sure that you’re not ignoring some other needs of your organization in the interest of, of one or, or two. So it is, I think balance is the perfect word and it’s, it’s a challenge. And, and, and as a leader in an organization, you have to remember that, um, your entire team may not be, uh, they may not be thinking about all of those different issues. They may be thinking about the one issue that they work on, on a daily basis and the one issue that they’re passionate about.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 23:50 And as a leader, you really have to make sure that you’re recognizing that, you know, one part of the operation in my case is really passionate about conservation, whereas another part of the organization may be completely passionate about the guest experience. And it’s both right now I have to worry about both. The organization has to worry about both. Um, but everyone who’s doing their job may not be thinking at that level. So in addition to balancing the, the, the external needs, you have to make sure that internally you’re aware of the need for balance. And that’s, that’s always an adjustment. And it’s always a communication challenge, but also an opportunity as well.

Nicole Mahoney: 24:29 Absolutely. And I’m sure that’s what makes you such a great leader for your organization, that the absolute awareness of that right, and of where you need to, um, to guide and, and, uh, kind of understanding that balance and, and really leading your team there. I think that’s really just an awesome point that a lot of people don’t maybe stop to think about.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 24:49 Yeah, we try and I’m sure I don’t think about it often enough or enough, you know, trying to keep up with it and make sure you’re aware of it, but that it is something that we’re working on pretty hard here at least.

Nicole Mahoney: 24:59 Absolutely. So can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Metro parks? Cause I know you’re part of a, a larger network, um, of the parks system within Cleveland, and I think maybe some of our listeners would benefit from understanding a little bit about how that part works.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 25:15 Yeah. So, uh, so Cleveland Metroparks is a unique organization. Uh, it is a special park district within the state of Ohio. There’s five special park districts. So we operate, uh, with a, a general operating levy that’s, that uh, operates on a 10 year cycle. And this special park district in Cleveland is the only one that actually manages a zoo. So in addition to the zoo, there’s also, uh, 19 other reservations, uh, around, uh, Cuyahoga County and Hinckley township. Uh, and these reservations could be just a simple, uh, land preservation. Uh, there’s multiple nature centers. We offer, uh, operate golf courses and lakefront reservations. So, you know, it’s everything from boating and swimming to, to golfing and hiking and horseback riding. And so the Metro parks, uh, Cleveland Metroparks in Northeast Ohio here is, we’re really focused on the Emerald necklace. So this, this really brilliantly planned over a hundred year old green space that exists in a, in a County that’s largely built out, right? It’s, it’s a County of about a lot of new green space that hasn’t been built off her business or, or residences. So it’s, it’s a great opportunity, you know, you know, a 18, 19, 20 million, uh, user visits and some of the reservations, it’s, it’s a really impactful how accessible through a trails network. And connected that, that we’re able to operate. So we operate in the County, we have our S or a separate governmental entity in and of ourselves. And on top of all those other things I just mentioned, we also operate a zoo.

Nicole Mahoney: 26:51 Yeah. And I think that’s really amazing. And um, you know, when I was doing my research for this interview, I, I went to the website and I just saw how it’s all marketed together and positioned together and how complimentary it is. And so it really, I thought was a good example of collaboration and bringing all of these resources together under one umbrella. So I, I’m glad you were able to, you know, talk about that a little bit.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 27:15 Yeah, it’s a great organization and it’s, and it’s an organization that is, you know, won the gold medal for best park district multiple times over the years. So we’re really proud of, of what we provide for Cleveland and Cuyahoga County and the, and the resources for the public and you know, at, at all demographic points and whatever your interests are. You know, there’s probably something that the Metroparks offers that, that, that provides that access.

Nicole Mahoney: 27:39 [inaudible] yeah, that’s really amazing. And, um, it’s a special park district. So it has its own funding models is, um, is what you’re saying, right?

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 27:48 Correct. Yeah. Yeah. So, so we’re, we, we operate kind of at the County level, but we’re not County government itself where our own governmental entities, so we have a levy that goes on the ballot every 10 years or so. Um, and the public votes to support the, you know, maintaining these green spaces and maintaining these amenities.

Nicole Mahoney: 28:06 Absolutely. I think that’s a, that’s fantastic. And I always love to hear about, you know, different ways that people are able to come up with funding models, um, you know, that really help them protect, uh, areas such as that. So I think that’s awesome. So we have covered a lot. Um, before I ask my final question, um, is there anything that I didn’t, I haven’t asked so far that you wanted to, you know, to share with us and also if you could, um, share with us how our guests can find you and follow the Cleveland zoo?

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 28:38 Yeah. So, uh, our website is future for wildlife.org. You know, again, putting that message forward, we didn’t put Cleveland Metroparks zoo in the, in the website. Uh, we put future for wildlife.org so we want to make sure people understand that that’s what we’re really focused on. So, um, you can check us out online. Uh, you can check us out, you know, on a number of social media channels, Cleveland Metroparks or Cleveland Metroparks zoo. We have, uh, channels for both of those, whether your interests are in parks. And then in all of that natural space that we have in Cuyahoga County or whether it’s the zoo, um, all of the social media platforms we have, uh, access to, we’re really, we’re really proud and, and putting new content out there all the time.

Nicole Mahoney: 29:19 That’s fantastic. And we’ll make sure that we link to your website feature for wildlife.org in the show notes section, uh, for this interview. And so I just wanted to wrap up with one last question and this one more pertains to, uh, destination marketing and tourism marketing. But I’d love to get your kind of, uh, perception on and that is, uh, you know, how important, um, tourism marketing is to a community, but I think it’s beyond or it’s moved beyond just [inaudible] attracting visitors from outside of the community. And a little bit more about, um, reading, you know, brand ambassadors or cheerleaders within your own community. I’m really talking to the locals as well. And I’m curious if you’re seeing some of that in your neighborhood and, and if you have any thoughts about that.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 30:12 Yeah, I think, you know, I think we are, and I think we’re just starting to really think about ourselves differently. I mentioned that, you know, we’ve really tried to push this mission piece forward. The other part that I think we’re, we’re still in the early stages is making sure everyone understands the economic value of tourism destinations. Particularly one like Arzu or many zoos around the country who aren’t necessarily drawing people from Europe or you know, like a theme park would. Um, but we have a huge economic impact on our local communities and zoos and aquariums are really, really strong economic engines within the community, whether they’re bringing in a ton of folks from outside the community or whether they’re providing, uh, opportunities for employment, opportunities for entertainment just within your community. And so for us, I think it’s a, it’s a new narrative. It’s a different narrative, but it’s one that we’re really trying to explore that, you know, Hey, we, we’re, we’re an economic driver here.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 31:08 You know, the Arzu is a $24 million budget, you know, the Metro parks is over a hundred million. Um, you know, so there’s a lot of investment that’s going back into this community. So, you know, often I think people think of the really unique things as a, as a tourist destination. Um, you know, in, in, in, in Ohio obviously, that we have, we have Cedar point in Northern Ohio and, you know, places I grew up going to. Um, and that’s, that’s a, it’s a tremendous tourism draw, but there are these smaller draws that really help stabilize and drive a community. And we’re just in the process of putting what those economic numbers really are and making sure the community recognizes that. Because I think sometimes you can take these really great gems like your zoos and aquariums in particular and overlook them in terms of what they mean to the community. And we’re trying to retell that story. And I think that’s in the early stages right now.

Nicole Mahoney: 31:58 Absolutely. And, and, uh, I love that you went right to the economic value and the economic impact because that is a story that, um, you know, I’m seeing more and more, uh, be told, uh, in, in other communities. And the other thing I love about it is it’s, you know, drilling right down to this is how much economic impact the zoo has versus, you know, this is how economic impact has in tourism in general for the whole community. And that could be a whole number of things added together. Um, and people might not think of how the zoo impacts. Okay. So I just think that’s a really great point. And, uh, and I’m glad that you, that you brought that up.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 32:35 Yeah. And I think that we’re, we’re still trying to figure out what, what is our role in this, this model. And, you know, for us, we don’t necessarily, we haven’t historically collected the data to really answer that question, right. We haven’t historically spent a lot of time asking folks, did you come in from out of town? You know, maybe you’re local, but your family came home for the holidays or came home in the summer and you’re bringing them all to the zoo. So you, it may not be tourism in the traditional sense. Um, but you know, there’s Clevelanders all over the country and, and we all come back cause it’s a great place, um, no matter where you live. So it’s, we’ve never thought about finding out, well, okay, yeah, you’re a member, but you brought a bunch of folks from outside the community to our zoo. Um, so really getting at that data and asking the questions so that you can quantify that helps you really tell your story as an economic driver, but you don’t know until you ask the question. So again, day to day to data.

Nicole Mahoney: 33:31 Absolutely. Data data, which I, I completely agree and I think that’s a great way to end our conversation and I really appreciate you joining us and sharing so much great information with us today and we’ll look forward to connecting with you again.

Dr. Chris Kuhar: 33:46 Thanks Nicole. I really appreciate it.

Nicole Mahoney: 33:48 Thank you for listening all the way to the end of this week’s episode. This gives me a chance to tell you about our influencer ebook. It gives you the inside look at how my agency break the ice media implements influencer marketing for our tourism clients. The book goes into detail on all of the tools that we use to find ditch, manage and measure influencers. You’ll find information on key follower benchmarks. How did that influence their channels? Getting your destination partners on board, creating itineraries, managing influence or expectations, and measuring for ROI. Does it break the ice media.com forward slash influencers to download the full ebook. Let’s break the ice media.com forward slash. Influencers.

Speaker 1: 34:34 It’s time to hit the road again. Visit destination on the left.com during your travels for more podcasts, show notes and fresh ideas.

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