Anyone who had a suspicion that, a few years into its 10-year residency in Orlando, IAAPA Attractions Expo might run out of steam was proved wrong in spectacular fashion this November after a barnstorming week in the “theme park capital of the world.” Paul Ruben and Owen Ralph report.
Within an hour of opening, one could sense that this year’s event – the fourth consecutive year of its current stint in Orlando – was going to be special. The floor was crowded, more so than in recent memory, and the buzz in the hall was infectious.
“What I’ve heard all over the floor is that the show this year is unprecedented compared to recent history,” offered newly inducted IAAPA chairman Mario Mamon from Enchanted Kingdom in the Philippines. “We see a lot of interest from Asia Pacific, Europe and all around the world here in Orlando. This bodes well for the industry and the coming year for the industry..”
Eventually the numbers confirmed it. Approximately 29,000 amusement park and attractions industry professionals from 110 nations, 18,200 classed as buyers, packed the Orange County Convention Center for this, the 95th IAAPA Attractions Expo. That’s an increase over almost 10% over the 26,500 attendees in 2012. The last time attendance got to such lofty heights was in 2003, when 30,062 industry professionals gathered in Orlando.
The week kicked off on Monday 18 November with various meetings and education sessions, including a well-attended (1,000+) Lunch & Learn session with Walt Disney World president George A Kalogridis. The doors to the trade show were then thrown open the following morning, and business was brisk until the inevitable final day drop off on Friday 22 November.
Visitors were able to shop their way around the largest floor in a decade, measuring 528,578 net square feet (49,107 sq m). Individual exhibitor numbers stood at 1,098, down from 1,167 last year – leading us to assume that several companies were taking bigger booths.
It wasn’t just the ride manufacturers keen to flex their muscle, witness for example the large “wave” structure floating over the booth of newly relaunched Accesso (formerly Lo-Q), the swish chandelier-like decorations hanging down over the domain of JRA (Jack Rouse Associates) or the massive display of midway games contributed, as always, by Bob’s Space Racers – almost an FEC in itself. Park operators, along with operators of attractions as varied as casinos, museums and aquariums, were pleased with what they found.
“It’s always a busy week,” observed local park proprietor John Arie, who runs Fun Spot venues in Orlando and Kissimmee, “but the show is fuller and with more innovations than I’ve seen in years. We’re looking for something new and different. to meet old acquaintances, and to renew friendships and see how things are going.”
“The lunch with George Kalogridis was really interesting,” Gröna Lund (Stockholm) rides manager Peter Osbeck told Park World, “and the IAAPA app was very helpful. This show is always interesting, but for us the social contacts are the most important thing.”
Reaction was uniformly strong among exhibitors. “It’s been a fantastic show,” smiled Michael Kitchen of US Thrill Rides, whose towering four-sided LED screen promoting the new Polercoaster was an eye-catching addition to the S&S-Sansei booth. “We’ve had quality leads. We entered the show with two very large sales, and that momentum and excitement is carrying forth. Through our appearance at IAAPA we’ve met with many potential clients from around the globe who are seeking world-class iconic attractions.”
“It’s was good for us,” smiled Chuck Bingham of Martin & Vleminckx Rides, “because we arrived fully booked for 2014. That gave us a more relaxed booth atmosphere. We’ve entertained our most recent customers and received other customers with whom we are now negotiating.”
“This year’s show? It’s been very good for us,” acknowledged Mirko Schulze, CEO of Huss Park Attractions. “We have had very intense discussions with quality customers, with more park operators and fewer showmen. The third day seemed the busiest, but days one and two were strong, too.”
“This show’s been great,” exclaimed Gary Goddard of Gary Goddard Entertainment. “We met many new clients from the Far East. We’ve already signed two contracts, which is rare for us in the design business, where contracts usually follow the show.”
“An awesome week, literally,” confirmed Kevin Rowher, vice-president of sales & marketing for S&S-Sansei, which introduced its new 4D Free Spin coaster. “Before the show started we had the first two-and-a–half days booked with appointments. That was before IAAPA delivered 27,000 people the first day, a record. As soon as we started, day three was filled and half of day four. Never before have we received verbal commitments during the show, but in this show we’ve gotten three so far.”
Best in years
“It’s been one of the best shows in years,” said Len Soled of Rides 4U. “Many people we haven’t seen in years were back with enthusiasm. We’re very happy to see the abundance of attendees, both park and carnival owners.”
“This has been one of our most successful IAAPA shows in years,” confirmed Augusto di Santi of the SBF/Visa Group, one of the European ride manufacturers represented by Soled. “Together with Rides 4U we sold seven to eight units of the spinning coaster displayed on our booth to customers in North America, and three or four more around the world.”
“There’s been lots of interest from the US, where we are represented by EnterAction in Branson, Missouri,” Olivier Vincent from the Belgian interactive attractions specialist Alterface informed us. “I think the economy is better over here at the moment than in Europe.”
“After Euro Attractions Show in Paris, we were doubting whether we would send a ride vehicle to Orlando,” revealed Ruud Koppens of ETF Ride Systems from The Netherlands, displaying a trackless dark ride vehicle eventually destined for Dubai. “I am glad we did; this has really been one of the better shows. The future looks promising, there are lots of projects coming up.”
“It’s been really good,” added Adam Sandy of the Ride Entertainment Group. “For the North American market it was good to unveil the Dollywood wooden coaster car from Gerstlauer. It added a dynamic to the booth to have a car to exhibit.”
“The show has been the best we’ve ever had,” noted Jim Seay of Premier Rides. “I wish we had another day or two. We ended up prior to the show with a fully over-booked meeting schedule. It’s clear because of the global expansion, especially in Asia, the work opportunities are limitless.”
“We haven’t seen this kind of energy at the show since 2007,” revealed Ramon Rosario of Zamperla. “We sold several Air Races and other major rides, plus quite a few family rides and we’re in negotiations for 2015 deliveries. In past years the last day was dead, but this year we have real activity and negotiations. It feels like old times.”
“Yes,” confirmed Alberto Zamperla, “we are fully booked through to June of 2014. This is a good time for the entire industry. Everyone is happy.”
“I think the show has been improving over the past few years,” confided Fred Miler of American ride builder E&F Miler Industries. “We’ve had some very encouraging contacts. We’re building a children’s coaster now for a North American park, with several other possible projects to follow.”
“Good show,” concluded Tom Rebbie of Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters – IAAPA’s oldest continuously appearing exhibitor. “We’re always here, and saw a lot of friends and customers. They’re happy with what they get from us, the pricing and the delivery. We have no complaints.”
Awards, education and networking
For a second year, the IAAPA Theater was accommodated in a far corner of the show floor, and hosted such fixtures as the Tuesday morning Kickoff Event and Wednesday afternoon’s Brass Ring Awards, honouring the industry’s best. But what about the action off the floor? There was a 5% increase in attendance at the education sessions, as 11,300 people participated in over 80 seminars, panel and roundtable discussions, multi-day institutes and behind-the-scenes tours to local attractions.
SeaWorld was the chosen venue for this year’s Thursday night IAAPA Celebrates social event. Marred only a little bit by the rain, approximately 1,600 guests enjoyed a nice selection of food and drink and access to the attractions Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, Manta and Atlantis, rounded off with a firework finale. Other networking opportunities during the week included the IAAPA Chairman’s Reception, Opening Reception and dedicated receptions for members from Europe, Latin America, FECs, waterparks and the carnival industry.
There were also networking opportunities during the week at parties hosted by, amongst others, the Themed Entertainment Association, BRC Imagination Arts, WhiteWater, Great Coasters International, Electrosonic, Blooloop and the infamous nightly gatherings from Premier Rides and Ripley Entertainment in the upper reaches of the Hyatt Regency (formerly The Peabody).
As a result of fundraising efforts including the IAAPA International Charity Golf Tournament, Motorcycle Ride, 5K/1K Fun Run/Walk and Chance to Win raffle, more than $115,000 was collected for Give Kids The World (GKTW), IAAPA’s charity partner for the last 18 years, known for the great work it does as its Florida holiday village for the children with life-threatening illnesses. Well done all who contributed!
IAAPA Attractions Expo returns to the Orange County Convention Center from 17 to 21 November 2014. Could attendance next time top 30,000?
Read an updated version of this report, together with many more pictures and highlights from an exciting week in Orlando, in the December 2013/January 2014 ‘Winter Issue’ of Park World, coming soon.