Robert S Rippy, 58, is the incoming chairman of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). Here he talks to Park World about his vision for the association.
in Raleigh, North Carolina, Bob is the owner of Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he is married to Jennifer. He holds a degree in biology and a masters degree in education from East Carolina University, graduating from the Flight Safety Academy in 2000.
How has your career so far prepared you for the role at IAAPA?
I started my career on Wall Street where I was fortunate enough to work with some of the brightest presidents and CEOs in a variety of businesses and I learned a great deal from them. I found that I’m really an entrepreneur at heart and that motivated me to get involved with a number of other businesses, including Jungle Rapids. I’ve learned (and keep learning) what it takes to run a successful family entertainment business. Those experiences, combined with my involvement on a number of boards and committees, including IAAPA, have helped lay the foundation for my year as chairman.
As incoming IAAPA chairman, what are your goals for the coming year?
I will focus on four important goals in 2011:
•Successfully opening our new regional office in Hong Kong to serve our members in the Asia-Pacific region.
•Providing additional value for our members by developing services in areas not directly associated with IAAPA Attractions Expo.
•Implementing the IAAPA Strategic Plan
How will you balance the needs of domestic (US) and international members?
We focus on taking care of our members wherever they are. Our head office in Alexandria, Virginia, serves two roles at this point. It is both our global headquarters and serves our members in North America. In the next two years, we will develop a more formal regional office for our members in the US and Canada.
A year on, how do you think the IAAPA/IALEI merger benefits FEC operators?
We are now stronger than ever. We are working to enhance and refine the programmes we offer for FECs, including introducing the Rookies and Newcomers programme at IAAPA Attractions Expo, conducting the state of the industry study for FECs and developing the education programme for Amusement Expo (formerley Fun Expo) in Las Vegas. FEC members have a dedicated e-newsletter and area of the IAAPA website. There are tremendous opportunities for networking within the association, with not only other FEC owners, but also with attractions owners and operators of all types. That’s a real learning opportunity.
How has the current economic climate affected, park attendance, per cap spending and investment in new attractions?
The economic conditions we’ve experienced in the last two years are unprecedented. Like most other industries, the attractions industry has taken a hit. The impact has varied based on the region of the world, but many members have seen decreases in attendance and spending. Those declines have impacted plans for new attractions or expansion. Fortunately, most members have weathered the storm and while we are not completely out of the woods yet, there are marked signs of improvement. I am optimistic this trend will continue and hopefully increased investment will follow.
What are the biggest challenges right now for small operators like yourself?
I think there are three:
•Financing new attractions and expansion. Funding is harder and harder to come by these days …even for established businesses with proven track records.
•Staying on top of the rapidly evolving laws and regulations that impact our business. In the United States we have recently seen legislation and regulations that affect everything from our pool drain and the toys we give away in our games to health insurance and the way facilities are designed for people with disabilities.
•New product development. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new product that really drives the business. We need to keep finding new experiences to entertain our guests and keep them coming back.
Is there any growth left for regional amusement parks in the US or Europe?
I think so. It will be conservative, but as operators continue to invest in their facilities, I think we’ll see some continued, moderate growth. As an industry, we have to focus on creativity, efficiency and cost control if we are going to grow the business. The competition for leisure time is as stiff as ever.
Do you expect further consolidation?
I think we will see some additional consolidation, but I also think we will see some of the consolidated operators sell some of their properties as they refine their portfolios. Both scenarios should create opportunity within the industry. The other interesting trend is the diversification of some of the larger companies across the borders of countries and continents.
Who do you expect the big players to be in 10 years’ time?
I think the successful players will be those that invest wisely and strategically. One of the keys will be how they raise capital and spend it. Lenders are going to be much more discerning when it comes to providing funds for projects and expansion.
Do you see many park operators diversifying?
I do, especially in Europe. Many operators are adding or expanding their hotels and accommodation. Waterparks are offering more spa-like experiences to broaden the appeal and marketability of their attractions. It’s this kind of thinking that will ultimately drive the growth within our industry.
Bob Rippy took over Jungle Rapids (left) in 1985. The 16-acre FEC and waterpark complex began in 1974 with just three waterslides but today offers waterpark facilities, go-karts, mini golf, a kids play area, climbing wall, 150 video and redemption games and a full-service restaurant.
“Birthday parties are big business for us,” says Rippy. “We do 25 to 30 of them on a typical Saturday. We are open every day but Christmas and our team is made up of 40 year-round employees and 125 in peak season.