Snappz: Vancouver Aquarium Creating Engagement With Apps

A couple of days before the end of Christmas vacation, I took my son to the Vancouver Aquarium. We have a membership to Science World, so we go there all the time, but the Aquarium is a treat for us that happens maybe two or three times a year.

Upon entering, we were invited, via sign, to download an app called Snappz, which was a virtual treasure hunt game. The goal was to find and scan QR Codes that were hidden throughout the Aquarium. Each scan would earn you points, and then you could earn more points by answering questions. Prizes were on offering.

We had a great time. Michael was tearing through the Aquarium with my iPhone, searching for QR Codes. Now, before you start questioning if he spent the entire visit only interacting with technology, he didn’t. The game is set up in such a way that you need to interact with some of the exhibits in order to answer questions to get points.

Michael ended up getting to Level 2, Explorer. His reward? Two buttons.


I thought this was an amazing idea for non-profit organizations like museums and art galleries to create engagement and to help drive in a younger audience. I interviewed Karen Howe, Director of Visitor Experience at the Aquarium about the app and where it came from.

RC: Tell me a bit about Snappz. Where did it come from?

KH: We partnered with a company called Fablevision to create a company called Sparkbridge which created and delivered the app.  The goal of the app is to enhance visitor experience, and, of course, generate revenue. It’s been live since March of 2012.

The purpose of the app is to highlight favorite exhibits–some of which are off the beaten track. For example, everyone loves the belugas and the sea lions and the dolphins. But what about the Hagfish? The app gives us the opportunity to highlight our personal favorites or less visited exhibits.
RC: What kind of success has the app had?
KH: We’re really excited by the response to the app. To date, we have about a 2-3% download rate, and about 95% of that is from iPhones, although we do have an Android app available. We even won an award from the tourism community–the TG4 Limited Innovation Award in Technology!
RC: What challenges did you/are you facing with regards to the app?
KH: Lots of people still don’t understand the concept of QR Codes. Also, the Aquarium is made entirely of concrete, so we had to install wifi so that people could actually use it. We also experimented with pricing. In the end, the feedback we got was that visitors wanted it to be free, as a value-add to their visit. So now it’s a free download.
RC: What are your future plans for the app?
KH: Well, it’s a bit of a brave new world, so it feels like the sky is the limit! We are talking about how to get repeat business–changing up the treasure hunt, creating new QR Codes. Also, we’re interested in exploring how we can use push notifications. For example, if the Octopus lays eggs, could we send that information out through the app?
RC: Thanks, Karen!
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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

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