Originally Posted by Long Beach Business Journal
Aquarium of the Pacific: Benefits by land and by sea
Economic Impact Study Released; $50 Million Expansion Underway
By Micheal Gougis - Contributing Writer
October 09, 2012 - Head for the Aquarium of the Pacific on a warm, pleasant summer weekend.
You will quickly understand exactly what Aquarium President and CEO Dr. Jerry Schubel means when he says that while the facility could, theoretically, accommodate more visitors, “It’s not the kind of experience we want to provide.”
To do a better job of providing for the animals in its care, teaching the public about the waters of the world and bringing economic benefits to the city and the surrounding community, the Aquarium has announced that it is breaking ground on a $50 million expansion project.
The expansion will not only see an increase in the size of the renowned center, but in the sophistication of the exhibits to better educate the public, Schubel says. And it will help ensure that the Aquarium will generate increased economic benefits for the city in the future, he says.
“It’s about enhancing the experience, enhancing the educational value, and being able to accommodate a larger number of visitors,” Schubel says.
The economic impact of the Aquarium continues to grow as it becomes an increasingly integrated part of the Southern California tourism industry. Make no mistake – tourism is critical to the California economy. In 2011, “total direct travel spending in California was $102.3 billion, a 7.6 percent increase from 2010 spending,” according to California Tourism Industry data.
For the City of Long Beach, the Aquarium represents a $57 million annual economic impact, according to a study conducted by the consulting firm AECOM. That is a dramatic increase from the $42 million annual impact documented in the last study, conducted in 2004.
For the greater Southern California region, the Aquarium delivers $142 million in economic benefits – broadly defined as spending, wages and employment created by the activities and presence of the facility – Schubel says. Currently, the Aquarium is responsible for 520 jobs in the city of Long Beach, and more than 1,200 jobs throughout Southern California, according to the study.
For Long Beach, the Aquarium brings money to the city from outside of its borders, Schubel adds. “About 10 percent of the visitors to the Aquarium come from Long Beach. More than 80 percent of the visitors come from elsewhere in Southern California but outside of Long Beach.”
Attracting more dollars from outside of Long Beach will be one of the benefits of the expansion program, Schubel says.
“As we grow and expand, the length of time of stay at the aquarium goes up,” he says. “So people are more apt to get another meal here in Long Beach. We’re hoping that as the city matures, the number of overnights goes up, because there will be more and more things to do in our city. We not only will be a great destination for conventions, but a destination for tourists to stay overnight.”
Expanding the offerings at the Aquarium can greatly increase the number of visitors, overnight stays in Long Beach and even memberships at the facility due to a phenomenon known as “museum fatigue.”
Basically, researchers have determined that visitors to any exhibit-based facility will last about three hours before they develop a desire to run screaming for the door. If you’ve ever tried to cram in too much museum sightseeing on an overseas vacation, you are very familiar with the feeling.
Currently, a typical visit to the Aquarium is between two hours and 30 minutes and two hours and 45 minutes, Schubel says. By expanding the facility, it will take longer for people to complete their visit – more than the three-hour mark – thus encouraging multi-night stays in the city and increasing the demand for memberships, which save money for people who visit multiple times.
It is important not to think of the expansion solely in economic terms, Schubel says. The Aquarium is a non-profit entity, aimed at educating and informing the community about the waters that cover 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. Expanding the facility, and increasing the sophistication of the delivery of that information, will allow the Aquarium to continue to improve the way it pursues its mission, as it has improved it in recent years.
“Over the last two years, we’ve added a number of new platforms like Science on a Sphere, which is part of our Ocean Science Center, and it’s an entirely new way of delivering messages about the ocean and people’s relationship with the ocean,” Schubel says.
“We’ve added a watershed exhibit that allows us to demonstrate to people how human activities on land in the watershed get collected and transmitted to the ocean. We’ve added the Molina Animal Care Center that not only allows us to take better care of our animals, but it lets the public see how well we take care of our animals, and it’s connected to Miller Children’s Hospital, so that children in the hospital are able to observe our vets doing checkups on our animals and they can talk to him – it has an educational component to it.”
Technology at the core of the expansion plans will allow the Aquarium to continue down this path, Schubel says.
“Live animals are the heart and soul of the aquarium. But live animals are not very good at telling the big stories about what’s happening to their relatives in the wild or in the ocean,” he says.
“So we have to use technology and media. One of the things that will be in our expanded facility will be this amazing surround-around 4-D theater that will be the first of its kind anywhere in the world.”
In the end, telling the story of the ocean and connecting it to those of us on land is the reason for the Aquarium’s existence, and why it is working so hard to expand and improve, Schubel says.
“In a not-for-profit institution, the only profit that really makes sense is in how well you pursue your mission,” Schubel says. “If we increase the stewardship, the knowledge, the education of people in Southern California about the world’s oceans, then we will have succeeded. If all we did was make money, we would have failed.”