With 212 member Zoo’s, 6000 members and over 135 million annual visitors, it was no surprise to see this year’s annual AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) conference bursting at the seams, especially as AZA had partnered with IMATA (international Marine Animal Trainers Association) to take over New Orleans with a passionate, creative and exciting sequence of events, icebreakers and experiences.

As the managing director of www.CREWtraining.uk.net and the representative of DIT UK (Department of International Trade, UK) I set forth into the whirlwind of networking, seminars, brainstorming, exhibitions and social events to discover that there are two aspects that really stand out when attending an AZA annual… Big and Bigger!

If there is anything that Americans do well… it is big… big country, big sky, big ideas, big enthusiasm! With 3000+ attendees, hours and hours of simultaneous programming, an exhibition hall packed to the ‘gills’ (aquarium reference) with suppliers, producers and entrepreneurs… and most importantly for our CREW team, there seems to be a big opportunity to build market and brand-awareness.

I am not alone in finding this such a rich ‘grazing ground’ (zoo reference) for potential partnerships and collaboration where many zoos and aquaria jostle with each other to create, inspire and deliver the best guest experiences and conservation supportive commercial experiences for their visitors and customers alike. My fellow countryman, colleague and commercial conservationist, Paul Cox (www.sharktrust.org, MD) also found it a great place to build connections, collaborations and commercial, conservation brand initiatives. Indeed as Paul says.

“We’re considering taking a stall next year as I can see so many opportunities to build connections and brand awareness. In particular, the potential for developing a market through zoos and aquariums for our retail products is really quite significant. AZA could act as a large and visible shop window to get product directly to customers and to connect with new retail partners”.

As far as CREW are concerned we have been able to build and extend many relationships this year, generating connections and collaborations that readily promise to bear fruit. There is just such a large potential for building mutually beneficial relationships, that I thoroughly believe that like-minded creative, British business’s have the potential to support a dynamic, hungry and commercially vibrant community to create, inspire, entertain, educate and supply a potential 135 million users with sustainable, ethical and creative conservation supportive products ideas and partnerships.

To which end we (CREW training and The Shark Trust) are working with US, UK and European partners, to found a commercially ethical, community that inspires and celebrates pro-conservation commercial best practice. Conservation and Commerce together, www.conscomm.com aims to become a leading community that crosses international boundaries and bonds like-minded individuals to define, refine and replicate best practice commercial, pro-conservation, sustainable and ethical business, projects and initiatives. So join us to start making a real difference! And in my opinion… AZA mid term @The Living Desert www.livingdesert.org (March 2020) is a great place to start!

2019 AZA Conference

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