Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

IAAPA Attractions Expo

A change of venue, from Orlando to Las Vegas, created new excitement on the floor of IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009, the 91st annual convention and trade show of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). Paul Ruben and Owen Ralph report.

Believe it or not, this was the first time IAAPA had visited Vegas, taking up residency at the Las Vegas Convention Center from November 16 to 20. According to the local convention and visitors’ bureau, this five-day fixture had a $40 million economic impact on the city.

While there were distractions everywhere in this fabled gaming town, perhaps the biggest surprise for IAAPA attendees was the layout of the trade show floor. Visitors had to overcome split floors of exhibits and some bizarre aisle numbering within the Convention Center’s South Halls. But fear not, IAAPA will be back in Orlando next November.

But what about this year? The world’s largest conference and trade show for the $24 billion (€16.2bn) amusement park and attractions industry hosted an estimated 24,000 people, the same figure quoted in 2008, from a record 108 nations. Approximately 14,700 of those visitors were qualified buyers.

This year’s attendance was far below the record of more than 33,100 set in Orlando back in 1997. Domestic US park operators, however, have had a tough 2009, and IAAPA Attractions Expo is no longer the association’s only annual trade show.

The size of the show continues to shrink, with slightly fewer exhibitors this time, 1,074 compared to 1,154 in 2008, and 405,000 square feet of exhibit space as opposed to 482,550 in Orlando last year. For the visitors, however, less exhibits, meant more time to see everything. Or more time to play.

IAAPA attendees could also register free for free at the neighbouring Global Gaming Expo, and vice versa. This may explain the 139% leap in attendance from casino operators at Attractions Expo.

Though some may have had concerns about going to Vegas (less theme parks, longer journeys), most conceded it was time for a change, and IAAPA should feel reassured that the numbers held up.

“We had some concerns about the economic conditions of the past year, but ‘Vegas delivered the buyers as we anticipated it would,” highlighted IAAPA president and CEO, Charlie Bray.

More than 100 educational sessions were held during the week, starting on Monday, November 16, tackling numerous trends, management tips and training procedures. Wednesday afternoon’s three-hour “Disney Legends” session was a lockout; such is the organisation’s impact within the industry.

IAAPA also staged a number of its own networking events, plus 10 sets of awards, a charity golf tournament and fun run/walk. However, without adequate facilities at the Conference Center, many of these fixtures (and even Tuesday’s morning’s Kickoff Event) were held off-site, which reduced momentum.

Additional parties were hosted by, among others, BRC Imagination Arts, HIT Entertainment, Electrosonic, Leisure Consultants and the TEA. Several national associations staged drinks receptions and, even if your country wasn’t hosting one, it was easy enough to gatecrash one that was.

Optimistic Outlook

The exhibition itself began on Tuesday morning, and there to welcome guests at his prominently-located booth was Jim Seay of Premier Rides: “This was a phenomenal show,” he smiled. “The floor was nearly devoid of tyre kickers and children. Business was the focus of the show. Recent announcements associated with organisations like Busch and Six Flags certainly created a refreshing sense of optimism.”

“Aside from Disney, Universal and some Chinese park operators,” noted Alberto Zamperla, “park owners are holding back on new ride purchases. We prefer to go back to Orlando because of the cost to exhibit here. This has been one of the worst years for the US market.”

“Like many suppliers, we came to IAAPA with low expectations,” revealed David Vatcher of 5D International. “However we were delighted to find serious buyers and decision makers from North America, Europe and Asia. None of our meetings were a waste of time. This, in addition to our announcement on the first day of the show about a deal with Six Flags, provided for a very successful IAAPA with excellent prospects for 2010.”

“The traffic has been better than it has been in years,” noted Dick Chance of Chance Morgan. “Our booth has been busier, with a lot of international visitors, because of the weak dollar. There are a lot of Asians here we never saw in Orlando.”

“We were a little sceptical of the show being in ‘Vegas because of the obvious distractions,” admitted Kevin Rohwer of S&S Worldwide, “but I have been pleasantly surprised and have had a great show, one of our best. Attendance of qualified buyers has been up, and there has been a good representation of American, European and Asian parks.”

“It has been very nice to see a high number of Asian visitors and more Europeans on the floor than in past years,” observed Sascha Czibulka of Intamin/Ride Trade. “It’s been a very positive atmosphere on the floor. We’ve had serious talks, and we have good reason to believe there will be some serious business as a result.”

Vegas vs Orlando

“We’ve had a lot people asking for information and prices,” reported Lino Ferretti of Preston & Barbieri, “we did not get such a good feeling in Orlando. However, there is a risk for us that we do not get our stuff in time because there is such a short time between shows [IAAPA and Euro Attractions Show].”

“This has been a very good show,” acknowledged Tony Rossi of International Rides Management, “with lots of interest from foreign parks around the globe. Personally, however, I prefer Orlando. I have family there.”

“If it’s going to be on the west coast then it should be LA, because here it is bad for flight connections,” remarked Paul Storimanns of Hafema.

“Orlando is easier for European people to get to,” agreed Valerio Mazzoli of Valerio Mazzoli Studios, in amongst the design firms on floor two. “I don’t think Vegas was a good idea. Here people do not bring their families. And two floors is terrible; why can’t IAAPA understand it is better for us all to be together?”

But many were enjoying the buzz upstairs, including a few first-timers: “For us, this has been a great show,” remarked maze designer Adrian Fisher, sharing an award-winning booth with Prestige Creative Settings. “When you are going head to head with all these brilliant creative guys you have to ask, ‘How ‘are we going to wallop them?’ Our booth does not cut corners and, like a maze, has lots of hidden things inside.”

“This is our first IAAPA” confirmed Christian Angenvoort of Theming and Animatronic Industries (TAA). The European supplier chose to exhibit because it had recently signed a deal with the new Sea Life aquarium in Phoenix. “We want to show our presence in the US market, and it’s certainly provided a good shop window.”

“This has been even better than last year’s show because of the quality of buyers,” concluded regular exhibitor Peter van Bilsen of Vekoma Rides Manufacturing. “It gives us confidence in the future.”

IAAPA Attractions Expo 2010 will take place at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando from November 15 to 19, but IAAPA will be back in Las Vegas this spring for Fun Expo. Previously run by IALEI, the family entertainment centre get-together runs from March to 7 to 12. IAAPA Attractions Expo returns to Vegas in 2011.

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