Over the last 3 months, I had the opportunity to have visited the zoo in Mysore (Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Garden) and Bangalore (Bangalore Bannerghatta Biological Park) and in both of these cases I opted to explore the park using a “Buggy”. For the lesser mortals who are not aware of what a buggy is or what it does, its basically an EV that takes you around the park for a pre-determined cost (Rs. 100/-) in a much quicker and effortless way compared to exploring on foot. As much as exploring on foot is a better option, if you are challenged on time or have small kids/aged parents then buggy is the ideal way out. Each buggy has about 4 rows of seats and can max accommodate about 10 adults comfortably (excluding the driver)
Let me first tell you how things will work in both of these parks when it comes to hiring the buggy and how the user experience is currently. Then I will explain how my perspective of things can be changed to improve the visitor experience at these places.
Mysore: One needs to take the zoo entry ticket and enter the premises (where the ticket gets checked) and after that, you make a decision to either start walking on the left or pick up the buggy ticket and then wait for a vehicle to pick you up and take you around the park over a period of hour or less. Once you buy the ticket, a person makes a note of how many people accompany you along with your name and he will call you out once the next vehicle comes to the pickup point. I think most buggy drivers (guide) here are male and pretty well trained in the bird, animal or species names in a handful of common languages. The buggy moves at a decent pace and the guide keeps showing the respective cages and calls out the names of the species. And there are specific species where he will stop the buggy and give about 1-2 mins time so that you can walk up to the cage and have a quick look at the species and come back and board the buggy. This continues till almost 3/4th the way when the time given is around 5mins when you reach the snakes’ section and also in the end at the reptiles/aviary section. The buggy will finally drop you off at the last part which is the Giraffe enclosure. The total distance is 3-4km, if by walk then it can take anywhere between half a day to a full day to completely view the park. But in a buggy you can finish it in less than an hour and not all species are shown if this option is taken. No liberty to spend an extra minute at any specific enclosures nor an option to board another buggy if you get delayed (which they won’t let happen).
Bannerghatta: One can take just the zoo entry ticket or if buys a ticket to the safari then the zoo entry is included in that. If its the latter then you first finish the safari and come back to the main entrance you have to enter the premises again in another entrance which leads you to the starting point for the zoo. On the right, you find a small ticket counter and a waiting area where you can buy the buggy ticket. Once the vehicle arrives, another attendant ties a wristband which is an indication that you have bought a buggy ticket. The guide here starts the journey around the park and the first set of instructions given is that you are not supposed to get off the buggy at any point and the buggy will stop only at 2 designated regions where you are allowed to get off the buggy ( the first one is the canine enclosure region and other being where snakes and birds are kept ). Here the guide doesn’t tell what the species that you are seeing in the cage is. They stop the buggy at the first of the 2 areas mentioned above and give you 5mins times to see and get back to the other end of the enclosures. And in the second case near the snakes’ section, they notify you that you can board any of the buggies which will come next and proceed further till the end. They just move on and if there are any people who have finished watching the species and are waiting for the buggy they pick them up and these people are identified based on the bright orange wristband. After they pick up people here, the only other place where they stop is near the aviary enclosure where again the time given is 1min to see and come back else in worst of the case board the next buggy. Was even told that this option was introduced just on the day of my visit and this enables them to do more round trips compared to the previous setup. The total distance is ~1.5km, if by walk then it can take anywhere from 2-4 hrs to complete the visit. But in the buggy, you can finish it in less than 45mins. But if it’s a first-time visit then you will hardly realise what you went through and what species enclosures you drove past. An experience that is definitely not worth the money you pay or the time you spend.
As you see, in both cases the buggy is meant to just enable you to tick off the visit to the park than to give you a good experience of the place, let alone witness and learn something about the species which are kept in the park.
I personally feel that the whole zoo visit experience in the above or any of the zoos in the state ( or in the country ) can be improved if we can make use of the best of the above and tweak things a bit. And probably avoid overloading of the drivers or they getting stressed out because of urgency to do more trips or make the visitors catchup with them.
Recommendation / Suggestions :
a. Normalise the cost of the buggy ride based on the size of the park or the distance that the buggy has to travel. When compared to Mysore the 100rs at Bannerghatta didn’t seem justifiable.
b. If need be have 2 pricing structures one for regular drive-through and another for hop on-hop off facility ( explained later ). Identify this by having bands with 2 different colours ( call it orange band and green band )
c. Train the drivers/guides to talk a line or two about the species including but not limited to their names in a few common languages and a line or two about where they are found or what they eat etc.
d. As a modification to #c above, to ease the repeated stress on the guides throughout the day, pre-recorded audio clues can be triggered and played in the buggy by the guide in front of every enclosure.
e. Schedule the buggies to start and end at pre-determined schedules and stop at specific enclosures for a stipulated time only. This will ensure the movement of the buggy is uniform and the pacing is adequate for visitors to enjoy the visit as well. This will also ensure the visitors know what time the next buggy will reach the pickup-dropoff point near an enclosure.
f. When instructing visitors to get down to view an enclosure(s), then give them an option that they can come back within the next 2-3mins back if they want to continue in the same buggy or if they want to spend more time at a given enclosure they will permit to do so if they have bought the ticket for hop-on and hop-off ( identified by the green band ). If a visitor has bought a drive-through ticket ( identified by the orange band ) then he should be informed of the inability for them to board any other buggy. If need be write the buggy number on the orange wristband so that its easy for them to identify the buggy.
g. Scheduling in #e needs to be done in such a way that, it gives ample time for the drivers also to rest and also grab their meal or snacks on time. The pacing of the buggies at noon can be reduced to accommodate this and this is also the time when most mammals are also resting and visitors find it difficult to spot them while travelling.
h. Visitors with the green band should have the liberty to walk anywhere ahead and board at the next pickup-dropoff point or if they would prefer to begin the trip or complete the rest of the trip by walk.
i. Bands are not transferable between the visitors of the same group or between the visitors. Once the band is removed from the band ( damaged or tampered ) then it will cease to have validity.
j. Mysore zoo had a route map displayed all around the park and it was easy for visitors to navigate where they wanted to but this was not the case in Bannerghatta. Either introduce and make it common across all zoos or have some printed maps available at the zoo entrance or in the buggy for reference.
k. Have a tip jar in the buggy or at the end of the park and the visitors can be asked to tip the drivers if they feel so at the end of the journey. This can be consolidated at the end of the day or week and distributed amongst the eligible drivers. Make the facility official and probably announce it once or max twice during the journey in the PA system in the buggy.
l. The idea of the buggy should also be to give the best possible visitor experience. So the route should be planned to show the maximum possible species rather than to skip them to make the journey faster. What’s the point when someone goes out and gives a review that they didn’t get to see anything properly at all!
The above are not the only options nor they are challenging to implement. If we do a small survey during the mid and end of the zoo and gather data points from visitors as to what they liked or what they didn’t then we might get even more inputs to improve the experience. Having said that we are not even talking about facilities within the zoo and the lack of quality souvenir shops at these venues. All those add to the overall experience in one or another way.