13 Reasons IAAPA 2015 was a (Giant) Success

Amusement park professionals from around the world gathered in mid-November for The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA)’s annual trade show and conference in Orlando. 

The 2015 International Attractions Expo (IAE) saw the debut of some neat new hand gesture technology, a magical new outdoor play brand and a host of new rides, innovations and attractions. There was even the introduction of a 35 metre tall Giant. So what were the highlights and what stood out from the pack?

By Charles Read

Here are my top 13 reasons why The International Attractions Expo (IAE) 2015 was a towering success.

iaapa attractions expo 2015

1.  IAAPA by Numbers

The IAE was held at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center.  I have visited numerous times over the years but this was the first time I was struck by how beautiful a building it is.  Walking by early on the Sunday morning before the show, I was reminded of Wordsworth’s line about London on Westminster Bridge, “And all that mighty heart is lying still!”.  Silent and empty, at dawn it looked simply stunning.  Very, very quiet too, though not for long…animatronic figure zombie from the walking dead

A quick glance at the numbers for last year’s IAE shows us that this year was significantly bigger than last and IAAPA confirms that the 2015 event was the second biggest in their history. Pushing 33, 000 attendees, over 1, 000 exhibitors and 13, 400 delegates for the week’s 114 education sessions are testament to another successful week for the Virginia based amusement park association. As ever it was huge, exhausting and tons of fun. IAAPA’s cute twitter hashtag said it all, #9milesofaisles.

2. Sponsors

This week of fun, parties, testing new rides, games and attractions (oh and business) was generously supported by a large number of sponsors, including:

3. Show floor announcements a) – Hand Gestures and a Station Wagon

The IAE saw a record 34 companies hold press conferences to introduce their new technologies, attractions, legoland ninjago trio tech press launch iaapa 2015brands and innovations.

If the poster boy for last’ year’s IAE was the Joker from the Justice League dark ride from Sally Corp., this year the Jacksonville, Florida based dark ride and animatronic company presented an altogether more sinister character to the show (above right). A zombie from their latest creation, the “Battle for Survival”‘ ride – based on AMC’s  popular TV show, “The Walking Dead” – greeted visitors to their booth. On message, the takeaway was a severed finger.

Probably the biggest buzz on the show floor (and the busiest booth) was that of media-based attractions company TRIOTECH. They showcased their Maestro hand gesture ride technology, which allows guests in an Interactive Dark Ride to enage with and control the gameplay adventure via hand gestures alone.

The company is collaborating with Legoland to create LEGO® NINJAGO™ The Ride, due to open  at the Legoland theme parks in Malaysia, Denmark and California. Ernest Yale, CEO, Triotech described the technology as ‘intuitive, adaptive and family-oriented’.

WhiteWater West announced two new Products – APX, their next generation multi-level play structures and WaveOz, the first full 180 degree wave machine – and celebrated 35 years in the waterpark business. Their booth featured a 1976 Station Wagon, “Olive” and other props to recreate a time when the birth of water parks was first taking place. Olive was eventually sold via a silent auction to Omaha Children’s Museum with the proceeds going to Give Kids the World.

station wagon on whitewater west booth ice 2015

4.Show floor announcements b) – Giant Men, Giant Snakes and Timbalaya

Zamperla unveiled four new products Zip Zap Racer, Endeavour, Factory Coaster & Windstarz (below) whilst celebrating 50 years in the business.

camperla windstart ride at iaapa 2015

Mack Rides revealed a model of Cobra’s Curse, the hotly anticipated family spin rollercoaster opening 2016 at at photographers crowd a model of cobras curse coaster from mack at iaapa 2015Busch Gardens Tampa.

Paddy Dunning and Eric Fraad of The Giant Company (with the help of designer Kieran Stanley, CEO dan pearlman) introduced their Giant project to the attractions world.  This unique attraction is designed to provide both an iconic and versatile visitor experience and also a bespoke canvas onto and into which a city/resort/brand can project its message or theme. The Colossus of Rhodes was one of the Seven Wonders of the world and caused quite a stir, so this giant might have legs. Keep an eye on Berlin.

Experience design company Holovis introduced new 3D Dome attraction Crimson Wing, with augmented reality options for the queue line.

Dynamic Attractions launched a new theming service to complement its innovative ride systems. The Orlando based Unlimited Attractions will offer a one-stop shop for theme park owners, providing both the ride and all the show elements desired to bring it to life. As Guy Nelson (below), CEO of Dynamic Attractions President and Empire Industries, explained,  “By coordinating the development of the storytelling along with (our) highly sophisticated ride systems, attractions can be more impactful. This results in seamless attractions and better guest experiences.”

dynamic attractions coo guy nelson at iaapa expo 2015

Launched not with a formal press conference, nor with an announcement on a booth the Timbalaya team – Rosalind Johnson, Sylvia Matiko, Simon Egan and Nick Farmer – nonetheless created quite an impact. In meetings throughout the week with potential developers and investors, the team behind the new magical outdoor play brand already have a number of exciting developments in the works. Watch this (magical) space.

Polin Waterparks revealed their latest innovation;  new technology which embeds both interior and exterior designs into the waterslides during the production process. Right now they offer 7 designs and the slide sections on display made their booth resemble an outpost of the Tate Gallery. “Waterslides as art”. Cue men in tweed jackets mulling over the slides,  furrowed brows and chin-stroking.

Polin waterparks team at iaapa 2015

Media based ride company CAVU Designwerks launched the “Amazon Drifter”. A unique concept, the ride is a mix between a state-of-the-art dark ride and a water ride with added special effects. It boasts a huge snake and the Amazonian connection put me in mind of the model Titanoboa exhibited at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens earlier this year.

giant snake attacking a tram amazonian drifter cave

5. And we’re off! The Kick Off Event

On Tuesday, 17th – the first day of the exhibtion – our News Editor, Tracy Kahaner attended the Kick-off event. Located in the IAAPA Theater – on the tradeshow floor – and presented by Wanda Group, this was an ideal way to start the show.

Hosted by Gerardo Arteaga, IAAPA’s outgoing Chairman of the Board and Paul Noland, IAAPA’s President, the session recapped some of the new attractions around the globe; celebrated the 20th anniversary of IAAPA’s partnership with Give Kids The World and the gavel was passed to the new Chairman for 2016 – John McReynolds of Universal Parks and Resorts.

In the afternoon Tracy went to, “CEO Speaks: Three Veteran Leaders Discuss What’s NEW. NOW. NEXT!” The speakers were Al Weber, Jr, President and CEO Apex Parks Group, Jane Cooper, President, Attractions’ Division at Herschend Family Entertainment, and Arnaud Palu, Chief Executive Officer at Majid Al Futtaim Leisure & Entertainment. Matt Heller, Founder Performance Optimist Consulting and consulting partner at Amusement Advantage, was the moderator.

legends panel at iaapa 2015

6. Legends and Disneyland

On the Wednesday afternoon Tracy and Ella Baskerville, Blooloop’s Events Manager, went to a session entitled, “Legends 2015: The Continuing Impact of Disneyland on the Worldwide Attractions Industry after 60 years”.

Moderated by Bob Rogers, Founder of BRC Imagination Arts this group comprised Matt Ouimet, President & CEO of Cedar Fair, LP, Marty Sklar, Retired from Walt Disney Imagineering, Disneyland’s Marketing Legend: Jack Lindquist, and Tom Mehrmann, CEO of Ocean Park Corporation, Hong Kong.

This panel looked at how Disney continues to impact our industry. Both Tom Mehrman and Matt Ouimet discussed how the proximity of Disneyland to their own parks (Ocean Park and Knott’s Berry Farm) had drove them to improve their offering and therefore the attendance. The message to take away from this great panel and these inspiring speakers was that competing with Disneyland forces you to “up your game”.  As Tom said,  “Ocean Park, would not have the money, motivated government or staff without competition from Disney”.

Jack Lindquist saidt, “sponsors’ names can give an imaginary place a sense of authenticity. Disneyland’s Main Street seemed all the more real because of the authenticity given it by brands like Coca-Cola, Kodak, etc.”

beaver tails sold at iaapa 2015

7. Talk and more talks

With well over a hundred education sessions we couldn’t possibly attend them all, but we tried. Highlights included:

  • Marcus Lopez, Director of Customer Experience, Gateway Ticketing Systems spoke about how an attraction should identify the correct POS, taking into account both the technological and mobile landscapes.
  • The HR stream was well attended with speakers Matt Heller and Shawn McKeogh sharing their expertise.
  • The Lunch and Learn session with President of Universal Creative at Universal Parks & Resorts Mark Woodbury saw over 450 attractions industry professionals hear about how Mark’s team has influenced the development of the Universal parks both in the US and overseas.
  • 780 attendees were at the GM and Owners’ Breakfast which featured keynote speaker SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment President, CEO, and Director Joel Manby.
  • TJ Christensen, Senior VP, Business Development, accesso spoke of what’s next in mobile marketing, in ” Navigating ECommerce in a Mobile Landscape”. He was joined by Vivian Lee from Ocean Park Hong Kong.

  • In, “Emerging Trends in Immersive Design”, Shawn McCoy, VP Marketing and Business Development, Jack Rouse Associates and Cynthia Sharpe, Senior Director, Cultural Attractions and research, Thinkwell Group, talked about bold, immersive, personal experiences. Shawn highlighted the personalised features of the new College Football Hall of Fame where you choose a team as you enter and every exhibit will change according to your ticket on a lanyard when you get close to the exhibit. He also mentioned the new Holocaust Memorial use of interactive exhibits by filming holocaust survivors’ answers to over 1500 questions.
  • Adam Sandy, Chief Business Development Officer,   Ride Entertainment, Attorney Erik Beard and Senior Counsel Bill Childs led an interesting and practical session entitled, “How to Be Ready for Litigation Every Day”.  The emphasis was on being prepared, ensuring documents are properly retained and being ready for potential litigation throughout the process of developing rides and attractions.
  • Thinkwell’s Kelly Ryner and Rani Bell took part in the “Women in Leadership” session on the Thursday morninhg. Other panelists incuded Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Simone Jones, SeaWorld Parks’ Corrine Brindley, Neverland’s Luciana Periales and Ocean Park’s Vivian Lee.

8. Parties

blooloops iaapa 2015 party

A huge part of IAAPA week – some might say the major part – is the parties. While IAAPA have their own formal functions, many companies, rather than taking booths, choose to hold parties for their friends and clients. The IAAPA show represents a convenient opportunity, after all everybody is in town. These range from the intimate – effectively small dinner parties – to the elaborate and even the flamboyant.

Our own, snappily titled, “Blooloop Party” has grown each year and was another great success. A chance to meet around 400 of our closest friends, clients and colleagues from across the world, the invite-only party was again at BB King’s Pointe Orlando.  A cracking live band, nachos and flambéed bananas made for a grand evening. Our sponsor’s generosity is hugely appreciated. Enormous thanks go to our Gold sponsors PGAV Destinations and Polin Waterparks, and to our silver sponsors, Simworx, American Wave Machines, Unlimited Snow, LCI Productions and the UKTI. A special thanks to LCI’s Rob Paul who created the cool video mapping on the side of the building (see below) and Adrian Fisher who very kindly took some fantastic photographs on the night – see link here.

Pleased though we are to be holding the second coolest party in town, our hat must again be tipped to Ripley’s Jim Pattinson Jr. and Premier RidesJim Seay. Together they hosted “Exotica”, a through-the-week party each evening on the top floor of the Hyatt. This function has become something of an institution, even the invitations wear smart jackets. Thanks guys.

We were also grateful to attend a number of other superb functions. Gateway Ticketing‘s early evening event at Marlow’s Tavern is always fun, an ideal venue and a relaxed and informal gathering with which to start the week. After this we headed over to BRC Imagination Arts‘ annual steak dinner.  I chatted with Christan Lachel, BRC’s Executive Creative Director and VP and learned about his fascinating career journey, from The Marines through to his work on museums and heritage attractions across the world. I determined that 1) he was an inordinately sophisticated and cultured man and that 2) I wouldn’t want to have a fight with him.

Our final party, on Thursday night was Nassal‘s at Tommy Bahama’s. by this time most people are exhausted and partied out and this venue works really well as it develops and “end of term” feel giving guests the chance to review what they saw/felt/experienced/ate at the show.

9. Awards and Gongs

keith james era thea tea award messages

Many richly deserved awards were announced during the week. Keith James, CEO and Owner of Jack Rouse Associates (JRA) will be awarded The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) 2016 Buzz Price Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements. One of the industry’s top accolades, Keith will receive the award at the Thea Awards dinner in April.

Other Thea Awards will go to One World Observatory, SpongeBob SubPants Adventure, Fountain of Dreams and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.

IAAPA’s Brass Ring Awards were also given out, including wins for Sally Corp., Whitewater, ProSlide,  Mack Rides and Ocean Park (below).

todd hougland ocean park hong kong at iaapa brass ring award

10. Escape!

Late on the Wednesday afternoon Rachel and Ella disappeared to spend time in a darkened room. I then disappeared to spend time in a different darkened room. My plan was to understand, theirs was to escape.escapology orlando logo

Rachel and Ella’s predicament harked back to the last 5 minutes of our party the night before. A glamorous woman in a striking red dress, Kimberley Shepherd, got through our (admittedly weak) security cordon telling us that she was looking to find a friend. She went in, rushed around and then disappeared but not before leaving us her card. She was from a company called, “Escapology“. Intrigued, we got in touch and were invited along to experience one of the industry’s fastest growing trends,  Escape Rooms”.

11. A Game Changer?

My  own darkened room was a meeting room at The Hilton, to see a demo of the new Edwards Technologies, Inc. (ETI) system develped in  collaboration with German digital signage company Videro and Panasonic.

This groundbreaking new technology, which was first revealed at InfoComm 2015, provides a versatility in managing complex display systems as well as a seamless user-friendly interface. They key is the usablity (you video sign digital signagedon’t need to be a programmer to be able to manage it) and the fact that it is cloud based.

Brian Edwards, Founder of ETI, explained that this technology will kick-start,  “The Internet of Audio Visual”. I was in the room with a team from Thinkwell Group, whom I believe are known as “Thinkwellians” (there’s probably a collective noun). The firm’s Creative Director, Dave Cobb, who knows a thing or two, seemed excited at the possibilities the system offered his clients and Nick Winslow, who also has huge experience in the attractions business, later described the technology as a, “game-changer”.

Meanwhile, Rachel and Ella were in “the Antidote Room”, an experience I am told required both “intelligence and intuition”. They were of course “killed” several times but they had a great time and thanks to the intelligence and intuition of the operators, who twigged onto the fact that the two Brits were struggling, they eventually managed to escape after a rather unusual and fun hour and a half.

12. Cool Things from the Show Floor

The IAAPA show floor was vast – #9milesofaisles – and there were a bewildering variety of sights, sounds and tastes to indulge the senses. Here are are just a few of my favourites:

  • Food. As ever we ended the week full of Beaver Tails, Dippin’ Dots and Turkish Delight (Thanks Polin!)
  • Dinosaurs. A full scale Utahraptor. With feathers.
  • Powered zip-lines
  • Football game (below)
  • Attack Line Puppets. (Frrom special effects studio VFX and pictured in our header image and in action in the video above). Proof that it is not always the most expensive or technically advanced ideas or attractions that hit home. These puppets were daft, but beautifully executed and thrillingly effective.

football soccer game at iaapa 2015

13. In Conclusion: Back of the Net!

This show was another huge success. The biggest industry event of the year, it is a firm fixture in the calendar and a great and comprehensive introduction to the industry. Coming hot on the heels of the recent Euro Attractions Show (EAS) in Gotherburg, it proves that once again, this is a resilient, thriving industry, jam-packed full of innovation and industry. Altogether a giant success!