After two years of pandemic, punctuated by forced openings and closures, measurement restrictions at both sites, increased disinfection obligation for areas and equipment, the teams led by Olivier Mercoli are learning the lessons of the crisis and breathing, driven by positive trends.
Better than before the crisis
“We had a dizzying year 2020 in the bad sense of the word with constantly changing guidelines, sums up the director. In 2021, the Aquarium was only open 60% of the time and the Cité de l’Océan 43%. When the health pass became mandatory, we had to deal with degradation and very aggressive behavior from people who didn’t understand why they couldn’t return without it. In 2022 it will be something completely different. People want to go out, enjoy life, have fun. We have felt that very clearly since the beginning of the year. †
A feeling that the turnout figures reflect. If those of April have not yet been validated, the month will be “very good”, promises Olivier Mercoli. To be continued from the first quarter of 2022. The number of admissions worldwide exceeds that of before the crisis, both at the Cité de l’Océan and at the Aquarium, the locomotive of the SEM.
In January, February and March, the Aquarium registered 46,250 visitors compared to 35,800 in 2019. The Cité de l’Océan was closed in January due to the Omicron variant. On the other hand, they were 9,500 in the other two months to go there, up from 6,700 in the same pre-pandemic period.
In both cases, February was an exceptionally successful month, pushing numbers up, with 23,000 visitors to the Aquarium (ie 10,000 more than in February 2019) and 6,300 to the City of the Ocean (compared to 3,600 two years ago). “It is all the more striking and surprising that the ski areas had just reopened and there was snow. This confirms that Biarritz is an increasingly attractive destination, even out of season,” the director analyzes.
Lessons from Covid-19
If the meal of seals in public had to be canceled at the height of the crisis, other animations had disappeared to once again dilute the flow of visitors in all areas. This was the case for the presentations by animators scheduled during the holidays at set times in front of the shark basin, the turtles or in the area dedicated to the mangrove. The bipeds were replaced by audio and video presentations broadcast every 20 minutes.
Created at the end of the first incarceration, it generated palliative positive feedback from visitors. Some decide to perpetuate the tool outside school holidays. According to the management, nothing replaces the flesh-and-blood commentators who can make a link and directly respond to the public’s thirst for knowledge. Now the two coexist: people during the holidays and recorded comments that add value to the visit, the rest of the time.
On the Cité de l’Océan side, the procedures for disinfecting virtual reality headsets between each visitor had been drastically tightened. They are also permanent.
Finally, the need to count in real time the exact number of visitors imposed, again, by the Covid-19 to respect accurate meters, is forcing the SEM to rethink and optimize its ticketing system. A new, finer flow management tool is being tested for summer commissioning. In particular, the aim is to avoid frustration from customers who cannot enter during certain periods, during large summer crowds. A wheel of seats will always be available at the counters of the two structures, but gradually the purchase of tickets will be more and more done online, through the Biarritz Océan site.