An Operator’s View: Kelly Tarlton’s Tim Keeling

Tim Keeling. Credit: Kelly Tarlton’s

Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium’s general manager, Tim Keeling, tells the Ticker about the attraction’s strategy to partner with other operators, driving local engagement and its new Aquarium After Dark event this weekend.

What we’re looking at with our After Dark strategy is just being a little more playful. We’ve had night events before of course but we haven’t produced this type of ticketed “aquarium after dark” event before. So, it is something different for us – a very unique product telling a very unique story.

We’re quite excited about it as it’s something that we want to do more of because the feedback that we get from our customers is that we’ve got some amazing creatures and amazing stories here. Being able to tell their stories in different ways to different audiences is a very important strategy for us.

We are also looking for partners and operators who want work with us to help tell those stories in potential combo or complementary products that we think will enhance our experiences. There are amazing operators around Auckland and we’re keen to work with anybody who thinks they have an idea that could work well with our international or domestic markets

There are a number of operators in the region that have a marine conservation element to their products, which is obviously something we’re very strong on as well, so we are looking at those opportunities to bring complementary experiences together.

We do have a couple of things in the pipeline that we are not quite ready to talk about just yet, but the breadth of partners and the desire from operators and like-minded people means there are going to be some very neat combo or new  products or partnerships that will be coming to market.

It is also more than just about pure product. We have a very strong conservation focus and we want to make a positive impact on our marine environment at both a local and national level and we hope people will be able to see some of that work before the end of the year.

We are a very domestic-focused attraction but we love our cruise market and our FIT market which provides us with a really nice mix. What we love about the international market is that while we don’t compete globally on size and scale we do compete on the uniqueness and authenticity of our experience. So, you can see creatures here you will not see anywhere else and you will be seeing them in an environment that gives that experience a unique flavour. For our audiences, that is very special.

From a tourism perspective, the industry is very good at working together and tackling issues collectively and we are often able to stand together on the issues we feel are important. That is a key attribute of the industry for me as we continuously seek to collaborate and work together to enhance the industry. We have amazing people working in this sector with amazing ideas and passion and keeping the investment flowing to support them is really critical.

We know we need to continue to invest to make sure our products and displays are as strong as possible and we will be doing just that in the year ahead. We do have some plans in the pipeline which we’ll be announcing including some new initiatives like Amazing Creations, which we launched at the start of summer with the support of Crayola.

That initiative was a key investment in our strategy of ensuring we produced a product that matched well with our local Auckland market. We have a couple of initiatives coming in the next six to 12 months that we believe will really enhance that local engagement.

From a conservation perspective, we are working very closely with some of the agencies engaged with the environment, like DOC and NIWA and we have a number of programmes in play with them at the moment. There is a huge amount of passion for conservation in NZ and for us it is really about having the right focus and collaboration from partners to ensure that it is well supported.

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