The Great Show of China: 2014 Asian Attractions Expo Report

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) held its annual asian event, The Asian Attractions Expo  June 17th to 22nd in Beijing, China and it was by far its most successful to date.

With a huge show floor, a packed edcuation programme and a variety of tours, parties and receptions, attendees and exhibitors found a thriving and exicting market reflected in both a bustling exhibtion hall and in the remarkable numbers released by IAAPA after the show.

By Charles Read

Inspired by Martin Howe's recent use of the Japanese presentation style Pecha Kucha in his adelesummary of  the ECSITE conference, I shall style this report along the same lines. (Pecha Kucha is a form of presentation allowing only slides with images and no text and giving the audience only 20 seconds on each. With this in mind readers are asked to spend no more than 20 seconds per paragraph.)

1.  I flew with Air China and found the inflight magazine’s article about pop star Adele’s success inspiring, if a trifle ungenerous: “She, without a pretty face, a sexy body or even any gossip, won over everyone’s heart.” 

2. The Asian attractions sector is booming.  As the recent Theme and Museum Index Report from TEA/ AECOM confirmed, the theme park business is showing steady growth in the US, a vibrant if static market in Europe but remarkable growth across Asia.  Whilst many Asian countries are building theme parks and attractions and the trend is apparent across the region, nowhere is the Asian market more vibrant than in China. The museum sector is also growing rapidly across the country owing to significant investment from the Government.

3.  The venue was the China National Convention Centre, Beijing, located right in the middle of the site for the 2008 Olympic Games. meaning that although the shops and nightlife were a taxi ride away, visitors could take in the glorious spectacle of Beijing National Stadium (below), nicknamed "The Bird's Nest” .

birds nest stadium beijing

4. The growth of the Asian Attractions Expo has mirrored that of the industry it serves and has been correspondingly dramatic.  IAAPA confirmed that over 9, 000 people registered to attend the event, a huge 67% increase on last year’s AAE in Singapore. Over two thirds of these were “buyers”, this again up 80% on 2013. These buyers came from over 70 countries and were the owners, operators and executives from theme parks, zoos, museums, aquariums, FECs and other visitor attractions from both across Asia and even further afield. The exhibtion hall and the booths felt busy throughout the three days of the show. Pictured below, the booth of Showtime Entertainment Productions was, like many, always busy.

showtime entertainment productions

5. Exhibiting at the trade show were 325 vendors and the floor space itself was 30% larger than last year. In addition to the trade show itself, IAAPA ran education sessions, seminars, institutes and tours, these attracting over 2, 500 people. 

6. The Asian Attractions Expo 2014 was generously sponsored by, among others, JRA, Mack Rides, WhiteWater West, Antonio Zamperla SPA , Guangzhou Chimelong Group,  Wanda Group, and KraftWerk Living Technologies.

7. Alongside the trade show, IAAPA also ran a successful education programme in which delegates heard from a variety of industry leaders and experts on key issues and franceen gonzalez whitewater west at aae 2014developments affecting the theme park and attractions sector in Asia.  Pictured right are Franceen Gonzales, VP waterpark Business development at Whitewater West and Shawn McCoy, VP Marketing/Business Development at  Jack Rouse Associates.

8. I was moderator in an education session, “What’s New In Asia” and gave a short overview of why the Asian market is booming.  It is the growth of the middle class which is fueling the growth in the attractions sector, as it many other sectors – tourism, healthcare, sports to name just a few. In China this trend is most acute with vast numbers joining the ranks of the middle class each year; each individual with spending power and leisure time, the keys to the attractions visitor. The country has taken over 300 million people out of poverty in just the last 30 years, an economic development entirely unprecedented in human history.  Whilst the UK doubled its per capita income in 150 sean mccoy jra iaapa aae 2014years, the US in 65, the Chinese have done it in just 12.

9. Delegates then heard from both Andrew Kam, Managing Director, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, and Tom Mehrmann, CEO, Ocean Park Hong Kong as each outlined the growth of their parks and the developments they are planning in the years ahead. 

Andrew (below left) talked us through the Iron Man Experience, the first Disney attraction based on a Marvel character. The ride itself will be a 3D/4D simulator experience which will allow visitors to fly through the air with Iron Man battling aliens over the streets and in the skies of Hong Kong.

Tom (below right) then explained how Ocean Park and Hong Kong Disneyland complement each other, by being very different parks. In a sense he said, one is about , ”fantasy, the other about reality”, with both creating compelling, magical experiences.  He highlighted the park’s ongoing conservation work and its recently opened Shark Mystique attraction, which brings shark preservation and education to park visitors and puts a welcome spotlight on the vital importance of sharks to the marine environment.

tom mehrmann and andrew kam iaapa aae 2014

10 Other sessions included IAAPA’s Institute for Attractions Managers on the Sunday and Monday and on the Tuesday the ever popular IAAPA Safety Institute at which speakers from Disney, Resorts World Sentosa and Ocean Park Hong Kong detailed current best practice in saftey operations.

Once the exhibition itself had started , there were further seminars on, “Great Guest Experiences through Engaged Employees” (Todd Hougland, Ocean Park Hong Kong), a leadership breakfast with Bill Ernest, President and ManagingDirector of Asia for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and further sessions on waterparks, travelling exhibits, live entertainment, IP and food and beverage. (Pictured below, Mike Davies, Senior VP, Universal Studios Japan and David Lightbody, Director of Entertainment and Costuming, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort during the "live entertainment" session.)

mike davies universal japan and david light body hong kong disneyland aae

11. Attraktion! had one of the show floor’s most arresting exhibits. Whilst a booth is not all about size, this was nonetheless a huge statement by the media based attraction company, showcasing its key attraction concepts.  Launched at the show, the DOME Ride Theater is an immersive, next generation 720 degree (full sphere environment) media based attraction and is developed in partnership with Intamin Amusement Rides. Not content with a few beers, Markus Beyr, (below with Mike Frueh, Senior VP, Licensing and Distribution, Simex-Iwerks) the serial entrepreneur and attractions producer behind Attraktion had flown in two Austrian bartenders to man the bar and the booth had a party atmosphere throughout the show with dancing girls, men in dazzling white suits and champagne on tap.  Real estate developer Lewa Investment, based in Shaanxi Province is to the first client to open a Dome Ride Theater, at their new park in Xian, also home to the famous TerraCotta Warriors. The company also showcased Cinesplash 5D, a next generation waterpark cinema, and their entertaining group formation robots.

mike frueh simex-iwerks and markus beyr attraktion at aae beijing 2014

12. Sanderson International had a reception on their booth on the Thursday, celebrating 25 years in the business. Founder Steve Sanderson has built the company from humble beginnings to what it is today.  He was once a builder with a white van, a fireman in his spare time and the theming business was kick-started with the relationship he developed with Warner Bros. Movie World. Sanderson International recently announced its investment in  MAPS Perak, Malaysia's first  animation theme park – an exciting new development in its history. (Pictured below, from the left, Stefan Zwanzger, Pete Sanderson, Steve Sanderson, Charles Read and Luke Riley)

sanderson international at sae beijing 2014

13. Canada’s Dynamic Attractions launched 5 new attractions at the AAE, each an engineering advance bringing fresh and innovative twists (literally) to the ride market: these dynamic media based attractions are the SFX Coaster ™, a “A thrilling dark ride, high-speed, catapult launch coaster synchronized with high definition, immersive sound and visual presentations”, a Trackless Ride Vehicle, a Flying TheatreTM , an Immersive Transporter and the Circumotion TheatreTM, a 360-degree dome theatre.  (Below: Daryl White, Director of Engineering, and Francine Schnabel, Dynamic Attractions, Inc.)

francine and daryl of dynamic attractions at  iaapa aae 2014

14. The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) had an evening gathering at which around 400 people relaxed, mingled and engaged in post show discussion. The room was full to the brim with some of the world’s leading attractions producers, set designers, entertainment specialists and AV guys and Jennie Nevin, the TEA's COO spoke about the growth of the association in Asia and the many benefits it gives its members.

15. There is huge growth in the waterpark business across Asia with, again, China leading the way with the world’s biggest water park, Chimelong and many others in development across the region. The major players exhibited at the show, with Polin Waterparks, Whitewater West – giving a glimpse of their new “Slideboard” experience – and ProSlide Technology (below) having large booths, each of which were packed throughout the three days of the show. Waterplay Solutions Corp. and Vortex Aquatic Structures also reported successful shows, affirming that this was the busiest show yet for Asia. 

pro slide technology at the aae

16. "No pie to share here, only abundance"  Overwhelmingly, the feedack from Attendees was very positive. 

John Wood,  Chairman and CEO at Sally Corporation "Extraordinary".

Laura Lunn,  Trade Marketing Manager at Picsolve International Ltd: "A great show".

Brett Salmon,  MD at Attractions Audio Visual (AAV)"Manic – not a moment to spare!! 

Sohret Pakis,  Director of Marketing at Polin Waterparks (below): "Offered an up-close glimpse into how exponentially the Asian market is growing".

polin waterparks at the awe 2014 beijing china

John Hudd, owner, Interlink: ""Best show I have had in 20 years".

Tom Renger,  VP – Business Planning & Development at Paramount Pictures"An excellent show  Great speakers and program support the active show floor".

Steve Drake, COO, accesso: "An amazing show".

Pauline Quayle,  Director at The Juice Films Ltd"A really great show with a positive vibe, a great buzz and some quality leads".

Rob Paul,  Director at LCI Productions Ltd: "The show attracted a high level of quality attendees. The volume of planned commercial development is immense, requiring services from all sectors in the theme park industry. Big Ideas, Big Opportunities".

Shawn McCoy,  VP, Marketing/Business Development at Jack Rouse Associates: "The quality and number of leads at this year's AAE were exceptional".

Christian Martin,  VP, Marketing at Triotech Amusement Inc (below): "We saw strong representation from Chinese attendees".

triotech at the AAE beijing 2014

Joseph Joy,  VP, Corporate Development at Vortex International: "This event was one of the most successful IAAPA event VORTEX has ever had".

Al Cross, VP, PGAV Destinations:  "There is no pie to share here, only abundance".

Gino De-Gol, Owner, Robocoaster Ltd.: "The busiest and most productive AEE show by far".

17. My final day in China was spent on an IAAPA organized trip to view and walk along the  Great Wall of China.  Just a short coach journey from the city, the Wall is a tremendous sight and although there were a lot of people at the visitor centre, ten minutes walk up the sometimes very steep wall itself soon deterred all but the hardiest souls and my fellow IAAPA members and I were allowed to view the wall in all its majesty. It is an astonishing achievement, over 5, 000 km long and traversing the highest peaks, it zigzagged across the hills and mountains way into the distance, a genuinely awe-inspiring experience. (Pictured below, Jennie Nevin, COO The TEA and lighting designer and event producer Mike Thayer take a break, having successfuly completed the first 250m of the wall.)

mike thayer and jennie nevi tea coo

18. During the show, football's World Cup was taking place in Brazil and many attendees stayed up till the early hours watching the matches.  True to national stereotypes, Germany played efficiently, the Dutch engaged in world-class simulation and the English fashioned an ignominous exit before the week was out. 

19. With the annual increase in size of the AAE, in a sense it is a victim of its own success and now only a limited number of Asian cities have venues with the capacity to stage the event. Kuala Lumpur, for example, might now be too small. Next year’s AAE will be held in Hong Kong at the City’s Convention and Exhibition Centre, June 16 to 19th.  A popular destination and venue the AAE last visited Hong Kong in 2012 and I am already looking forward to my next visit to Ocean Park Hong Kong and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.  

the great wall of china

20.  In summary, this was an extraordinary show. The sea change in the attractions sector – as in many others – is that Asia is where it is all happening and is where continued development and evolution of the business is most acute.

 Bearing in mind that only recently attendance for Tokyo Disneyland eclipsed that of the orginal Disneyland in Anaheim, California, one has to wonder if in years to come the AAE will surpass the size of its parent show, November’s IAAPA Expo in Orlando. Right now, in Asia, anything seems possible.

For a full album of images from the show click here.

Images: Thanks to IAAPA for the education session images.