Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

IAAPA Attractions Expo

Upbeat return to Orlando

A return to Orlando boosted attendance and the weak American dollar pushed up sales and foreign visitors at the 89th annual convention and trade show for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). Paul Ruben and Owen Ralph report from the Orange County Convention Center.

It is estimated that 27,000 people from 98 nations attended IAAPA Attractions Expo from November 12 to 16. This year’s attendance was up an estimated 6,500 from 2006, when the show took place in Atlanta, Georgia, but about 500 less than the last time it was in Orlando, in 2004. It was also far below the record attendance set there in 1997 of more than 33,100.

Revised dates – Tuesday to Friday instead of Wednesday to Saturday – made little noticeable difference to traffic on the show floor and the last day of the event, like nearly all exhibitions, was still pretty quiet.

This year, however, the number of buyers from outside the United States increased by 72%. Buyer attendance from Europe doubled while attendance from South East Asia, the Middle East, Canada and Latin America increased 30 to 50%. With its ownership also of both the Euro Attractions Show and Asian Attractions Expo, IAAPA is now reaching more buyers outside the US than ever before.

“The IAAPA Attractions Expo 2007 results are incredible,” said Charlie Bray, president and CEO of IAAPA, after the show. “People came to Orlando from around the globe to do serious business here and that’s exactly what happened.”

Bray’s pronouncement was confirmed almost without exception by those Park World interviewed on the floor. While some visitors commented that there was less innovation on show than in previous years, it was nevertheless an important event to attend. “It’s always good to come down here, meet all the key players, and see the people who can take care of the things we need to accomplish, remarked Dan Alyward of Magic Springs & Crystal Falls in Arkansas. “It’s the relationships we renew each year that this is all about.”

There were a total 1,147 companies and organisations on the trade show floor in 2007, their exhibits covering 512,738 net square feet, a dip from several previous shows held in Orlando and, with one hall instead of two, a more manageable set-up than in Atlanta.

Happy exhibitors

“This show has been very good,” offered Ed Hiller at the S&S Worldwide booth. “There are a lot of people, great foot traffic, and a lot of decision makers at the show.”

“This show has been phenomenal, beyond expectations,” declared David Vatcher of 5D Network. “It’s the most productive IAAPA I’ve ever attended. Nearly half the visitors we had were from the museum and visitor centre sectors and I see a real crossover occurring between education and entertainment. The regeneration of the Prater that we’re doing in Vienna has really captured people’s imagination.”

“This is by far the busiest show I’ve ever participated in,” concurred Jim Seay of Premier Rides. “Premier had its largest booth in its history and we were continuously packed with meetings from the minute the show opened. Clearly there was a dramatic increase in the number of international buyers with real projects. It’s clear that the weak US dollar is presenting a very significant opportunity for global customers to purchase our quality at a tremendous value.”

“The show has been absolutely great,” confirmed Charlotte van Etten of Vekoma. “We have had meetings with high quality customers, both existing and new, and we’re working on several major projects. The increased quality and safety standards we have implemented and improved have really paid off.”

“This show has been tremendous,” smiled Drew Lippert of Whitewater West. “Lots of international groups came through, and lots of traditional customers. We are buffering the softness in the US market with an increase in those international customers.”

“This has been a good show,” admitted Len Soled of Rides-4-U, representing Italian manufacturers including Moser and SBF in the US. “We sold the pieces we had on the floor. We are hearing some comment about the exchange rate and the weak dollar, but we have noticed an influx of Canadian buyers because of the strength of their dollar. We were also liquidating the rides from Wild West World and had a lot of bids.”

Smaller than before?

“The show seems a lot smaller this year,” observed Lars Lenders of Dutch waterpark specialist Van Egdom, “but the international interest is growing. The US market is down and for that reason we did not do the WWA show last month in California, but we have to come here to meet some of our customers – even Dutch people!”

“We are very satisfied,” acknowledged Zamperla’s Ramon Rosario. “It’s been an incredible improvement from Atlanta in terms of sales, quality of attendees, and number of buyers. We exhibited our new SkyTower, an intermediate coming-of-age tower to help fill the gap between kiddie rides and major thrill rides. The reaction has been fantastic. We’ve sold quite a few both in the US and overseas. This show has been very heavily attended by the foreign market that was absent in Atlanta.”

“This has been a great show,” agreed Alain Vleminckx of Martin & Vleminckx Rides. We met good customers from both within and outside the U.S. We have four used wooden coasters for sale and we have had a verbal commitment on one and no less than one good prospect on two of the others.”

“We’ve had an amazing amount of interest in the model King Kong ride on our stand,” revealed Olaf Mordelt of Heimo Animated Attractions, which is partnering with Huss Animated Attractions to produce the themed ride in question. “I am very happy with the feedback.”

Attending from the UK and making its IAAPA debut with a “very British” product was The Playbus Company, exhibiting a bright red bus fitted out with play equipment. “We did Fun Expo last month in Las Vegas and decided to come here as a result,” revealed the company’s Debbie Scott. “Parks, waterparks and large FECs all seem interested, and foreign visitors love the ‘London’ look of the bus, which can also be used as an external branding tool.”

There was, however, at least one exhibitor had experienced a more positive event last year. “I’ve made some good leads here, and entered into partnerships with some other exhibitors,” remarked Pradeep Sharma of Bombay Amusement Rides, “ but Atlanta was better for me because I sold a train ride.”

Outdoor amusement

In addition to attending the trade show, a record 7,000 attendees participated in a more than 90 educational workshops, roundtable discussions and seminars, 20% more than last year. Thirty-seven people graduated from the first-ever “Institute for Emerging Leaders” where they learned about attractions industry marketing, operations, safety, human resources, finance and revenue operations. Conference attendees also participated in a number of unique behind-the-scenes tours at Orlando area attractions including Fright Night at Universal Orlando, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede and the Nickelodeon Family Suites Hotel.

Numerous breakfast, lunch and dinner events and receptions provided hours of networking opportunities for industry professionals at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2007. Following the Chair’s reception on Monday night, November 12, nearly 1,000 people participated in the Welcome Reception on Tuesday. Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton addressed a group of more than 350 executives at the GM and Owner’s Breakfast on Wednesday, and a sold-out crowd of 540 attended the IAAPA Gala on Thursday evening. Among a handful of exhibitor functions, Electrosonic hosted a well-subscribed Wednesday night reception at Universal Studios, where guests mingled with Shrek and friends, and watched the 4D film of the same.

The IAAPA Attractions Expo will return to Orlando and the Orange County Convention Center November 17 to 21, 2008, before a hotly-anticipated move to Las Vegas in 2009.

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