Believe It or Not! He’s the new IAAPA chairman!
Robert (Bob) Emmett Masterson, 61, is the incoming chair of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). Born in Chicago, he serves as president of Ripley Entertainment Inc, an 85-year-old company that has become a major player in the attractions industry. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is the largest, fastest-growing and most successful chain of amusement museum attractions in the world, and now includes a total of 64 outlets in 11 countries.
Along with wife Phai, who he met when he lived in Vietnam, Bob Masterson currently splits time between homes in Windermere, Florida and Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada. The couple have five children and six grandchildren. He took time recently to talk to Park World about his vision for IAAPA.
As incoming chair, what are your goals for the coming year?
I have several goals that I feel are important for the association’s future. First, the words “international” and “attractions” are more important than they have ever been for our association. We have members from more than 90 countries. The biggest projects our industry has ever seen are happening in places we would not have imagined a decade ago. The Gulf States, China and India are where most of the “new” is at.
We have a different make-up of members today. Family Entertainment Centres are one of the biggest constituency groups and we have zoos, aquariums, hotels, museums and casinos as growing segments of our membership. We have to look after the interests of our international members and our growing constituencies just like we serve the amusement and theme parks.
We also have to be relevant, as an association, for the biggest of our members. Their needs are different because they have internal training. They can, and do, buy without the trade shows. They have so much to offer to the rest of the membership and if we do not serve them, everyone else looses.
I want to bring a new group of people into the association’s leadership from the areas I’ve mentioned above. I want to do what others did for me. Nothing will make me happier than seeing someone I’ve got involved in our association become chairman one day.
I want to help IAAPA’s great staff by making sure they have the resources they need to manage a truly worldwide association with three major trade shows, plus the Summer Meeting. As chairman, I can make sure that issues which will help them do their jobs get on the agenda for our board to discuss.
How has your career in the industry prepared you for the coming year?
I’m in my 35th year in our industry as an adult. You can add a couple of years working at a carnival each summer as a kid. I run a company that has businesses around the world. I’ve been coming to our trade shows for about 30 years now and I go to all our shows. I’ve been active in the association and have been on or chaired some of the association’s most important committees.
What sort of shape is the industry in? Parks? Suppliers? I really can’t say with confidence that I know what shape the overall operator is in. We are in a very different time than we were a decade ago. There is a consolidation going on that has not yet shown its effect for the businesses being consolidated. I hope that the “funds” and Real Estate Investment Trusts that are such a big part of the industry today will own to own, and not own to sell.
The suppliers are starting to shift their focus from the traditional base of their business to the new constituencies and markets. Salespeople need to sell, suppliers need to supply. They are forging new markets. Smart operators watch the suppliers closely.
Where is the industry doing a good job?
I think the industry is doing great with “convergence.” Casinos are becoming museums and amusement parks. Hotels are becoming waterparks. Zoos have rides.
Where are the industry’s problem areas?
The industry may have a problem because of consolidation. I don’t know. Is the high debt load of some major companies going to restrict capital spending? Is that restriction going to cause the failure of some suppliers or facilities? We’ll have to wait and see. Having said that, I can’t see how coming up with an exit strategy before the acquisition is in the long term best interest of our industry.
Where is the growth right now?
The industry is growing well in several areas. First, the international markets are where much that’s new is happening. New concepts and, from that, new techniques will emerge. It’s like three or four major World Fairs going on at once. There’s another area of growth, though. It’s in the small attraction business. There are all sorts of new ideas being transformed into profitable small attractions.
Is the regional amusement park model under threat from either: a) resort destinations or: b) “half-day visit” attractions like your own?
I don’t believe that small attractions pose a threat to regional amusement parks. Small attractions have existed forever in amusement park markets. The real threat is the ability of regional parks to fulfil the needs of the generation now taking charge of the purse strings. They hate lines, want more in the way of choice, expect things to happen fast. What’s Pogo’s saying?” I have met the enemy…”<How well is IAAPA serving its membership – does it provide value for money?
You get from IAAPA what you want …if you’re a member. I have been on the board or the executive committee for a good number of years. The number one topic of board discussion is service to the membership. We try to make membership valuable for both supplier and operator.
Are there segments of IAAPA’s membership that can be better served?
I think that the areas outside of North America, South America and Europe could be better served. The problem is a function of traditional membership in IAAPA. We have a growing body of influence from outside those areas that we need to pay attention to. As membership from those areas increases, so benefits to those areas will increase.
IAAPA will expand its international influence by being a good provider of services internationally. Well run international trade shows, educational programmes, training, safety and regulatory activism will all help the association. IAAPA is an international organisation. I don’t think I could have said that 10 years ago.
As the association continues to expand internationally (through trade shows and other initiatives) have you met much local resistance?
I have seen resistance to anything perceived to be “American” for most of my adult life. I’m a dual national, USA and Canadian. I’ve lived outside of North America in Europe and Asia for much of my life.
As long as IAAPA’s address is Washington DC, people will be concerned that we’re not serving their national interest. All I can say when confronted with these concerns is this: The association serves its members pretty close to the proportion of members from any geographic region. I think that the work by the association going on in Europe today is an example of what you can expect in Asia in the near future. Actions speak very loudly and IAAPA is showing that it is the association that is right for the industry internationally.
What are the most pressing issues facing our industry?
Terrorism will haunt us if there’s a disaster at one of our facilities anywhere in the world. Safety, security, fun …it’s what people want when they visit us.
What issues will emerge in the next decade?
I think the industry is going to have to deal with the highly leveraged position of many of our companies. I do not understand the multiples that are being paid for acquisitions. There’s going to be a loud “knock on the door” sometime in the future. There has to be.
What trends do you see that are noteworthy? Disturbing?
The shift from cash to credit is noteworthy. It allows a different pricing philosophy. Disturbing? It has to be the debt that many companies are burdened with. Then again, that’s a plus for my company. We may pick something up if debt finally crushes others.
What is the future for IAAPA?
IAAPA has a very bright future. I remember my early shows where you could meet almost everyone in “our” universe in the lobby bar of the headquarter hotel after the show each day. No more… Sadly, a large portion of our industry never comes to the November show. IAAPA, through its shows and offices around the world, fills that void. If you look at the opportunity for industry growth in the developing world, and the role our association plays in facilitating that growth, let alone the continued operation of facilities, you can see a much bigger IAAPA.