Optimism with a Frosty Reception : The IAAPA Expo 2010

The annual IAAPA Expo was back to its spiritual home of Orlando

american wave machines at iaapa orlando

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After golfing on Sunday (see Well Above Par: at IAAPA’s Charity Golf Event) and the earlier part of the day at Gatorland (see Cold-Blooded Fun at Orlando’s Gatorland Theme Park), Monday evening  saw animatronics at iaapa show orlandoleading design company BRC Imaginations Arts hold its European dinner  at Charley’s Steak House on International Drive.  Most of the attendees were European, though a few Americans had managed to slip through the tight security.  I sat with, Carl-Otto Wenzel  of Wenzel Consulting , Peter van Bilsen from Vekoma Rides Manufacturing , BRC’s Greg Lombardo and BALPPA’s CEO  Martin Barratt. Carl-Otto  is one of Europe’s leading consultants in the field of leisure and tourism and we chatted  about how and why  the continent’s biggest indoor theme park – The Space Centre in Bremen – had not worked out,   while Martin looked on as I ate  alligator thinking  it was particularly tough chicken. 

Stickin’ to the Floor

One of the great things about the IAAPA show is that all the exhibitors are engaged in the business of entertaining people so the show is fun, a kind of visitor attraction in itself, with rides , games and food thrown in .  Doubtless “Late Phase Drug Development World”, “The Industrial Pumps Valves & Systems Fair” and “Concrete Panarama” serve their industries well but I can’t imagine they quicken the pulse as much, or are such fun for attendees as the IAAPA show.

At last year’s Vegas expo our  neighbouring booths were a waterslide manufacturer and an Eastern European dating agency. This year we had a crooning robot to our right (Engineered Arts) and to our left Pale Night Productions who were showcasing their products for the fast growing horror and Halloween market . Last year’s scantily clad Slav was replaced by an axe wielding asylum inmate and a zombie which had its head blown off every 5 minutes.

Further down our aisle was the Hurricane Simulator, a kind of man sized pod into which a gale force wind is unleashed.  The occupant experiences the full force of a hurricane without the inconvenience of having to wait for hurricane season, or indeed driving rain and wind borne debris.

The Black Hills Institute, based in South Dakota  is involved in the discovery, extraction and academic study of fossils and Larry Hutson, Sales Manager, represents its commercial arm at trade shows, selling museum quality replicas.  Like any 43 and a half year old boy I have a driving passion for prehistoric animals and Larry is happy to indulge, giving me postcards of different species and a copy of the institute’s brochure.  “For my kids”, I suggest and he smiles, his eyes saying, “yeah right”.

Sally Corporation had departed from their traditional, corporate exhibit,   going with a much more eye-catching  display this year, the animatronics , colours and lighting all serving to make their booth stand out from the crowd and bringing the dark ride experience to the show floor.  TAA Industries also had a remarkable booth;  half a Spanish galleon. I had a coffee on the poop deck.  Like the booth of Daniels Wood land (luxury tree houses) these exhibitors were saying not just, “here’s  a picture of what we do” but “here is what we do, you’re standing in it”.

Ice, Ice, baby

After the show it was BRC Imagination Arts’ cocktail reception, which was held at The Ice bar, the USP of which is that in addition to its main bar /dance floor area it has a separate room, made entirely of ice. On entering, we were handed cloaks and gloves, like hobbits setting out on a quest. Inside, the glasses, chairs and the bar were made of ice and it was a bizarre experience to stand with your teeth chattering and your breath hanging in the air just yards from Orlando’s palm trees. 

Two parties on the Wednesday, both at Universal Orlando Resort . The first was a very sophisticated soirée courtesy of Gateway Ticketing at Universal Citywalk’s Pat O’Brien’s.  This bar is an authentic reproduction of a renowned New Orleans’ bar with a  carriageway entrance , old slate flooring and crossed muskets at the entrance.  Monterey Aquarium’s David Rosenberg and Mike Chamberlain (above left, with Blooloop’s Tara Pies) talked  about the Great Whites the aquarium keeps on occasion -5 so far- to promoting study, awareness and conservation of the species.  I had assumed they were released back into the wild after 6 months because of something complicated to do with their sensory organs , biomechanical challenges or perhaps a need to migrate.  It’s simpler than this, they start eating the other sharks which is considered ill mannered.

We then headed over to the Electrosonic party at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, a buffet in front of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center, right by the lake.  As dusk grew into night it was a stunning venue, the inky blackness of the water trimmed by the glittering lights of the park , The Incredible Hulk coaster towering on the skyline.

Wonderous Stories

The signature ride, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”  at the park’s new (ish) Wizarding World of Harry Potter island had been opened for the evening, so guests had the opportunity to try it out.  As ground breaking and stunning as the ride itself turned out to be –a unique, scenic dark ride utilising state-of-the -art coaster and projection technology –  the pre-show was equally impressive. The fabrication, the design and the theming throughout the castle interior and the approach to the ride brought J.K. Rowling’s books wonderfully to life.  It was a totally immersive environment. The “living” paintings were an astonishing effect .

Eletrosonic then provided a buffet with a small jazz band.  I’d known Tommy Bridges,   Alcorn McBride’s sales manager was a superb trumpet player (at 14 he once played the young Hoagy Carmichael in a film) but he’d neglected to mention that he was brilliant on the piano too.  Enjoyed meeting Mike Davis , Senior VP at Universal Studios Japan, who travels long distances so frequently that a 5 hour inter state flight in the US finds him just settling down as it starts to land.

janine baker and ross magri at harry potter at universal studiosI was lucky enough to enjoy a second visit to the Wizarding World later in the week as I joined IAAPA’s “behind the scenes” tour . We had an interesting half hour with Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative  and discovered that Butterbeer is in fact magical.  Tough to nail it down, but nWave’s Janine Baker and Sarner‘s Ross Magri (left) reckoned it was like a root beer float.  I detected a hint of cream soda.

I’ve Seen All Good People

Throughout the week the TEA (Themed Entertainment Association)’s booth proved a great spot to unwind and catch up with old friends.  Like a lake attracting migratory birds it drew in a variety of glamorous types , invited in not by sunlight glinting on the water but by the smell of the coffee.  A whole host of Californians could be observed , including Frank Bencivengo, Lexington’s CEO and ace designer John Hogg,   BaAM productionsChristine kerr, Yas Takata (CEO , Blur Studio), Mel McGowan (CEO, Visioneering) and Nick Winslow (Nick Winslow Consulting) together with the occasional British visitor, Red Star’s’s  Ben Smith , Nick Farmer of Farmer Attractions Development  and  Adrian and Marie Fisher (Adrian Fisher Designs) all passing through.

Exhausting as it was (some people guessed they covered over 10 miles over the 4 day show) I love walking the aisles at IAAPA mainly because you never know who you’re going to bump into.  Tom Mehrmann and Paul Pei (Ocean Park CEO and Exec. Director respectively) were over from Hong Kong .  Arnaud  Palu  , COO Majid Al Futtaim and Jean Habre, General Manager Amusement Sector, Al Hokair Group were over from the Gulf  and Rajive Kaul, CEO Nicco Group, from India.  It was great too, to meet The Orlando Sentinel’s Jason Garcia, leading theme park journalist and possessor of my favourite Twitter avatar (left) and also marketing specialist and ex Disney Destinations Director Vickie Johnson, each of whom have been good enough to interview with Blooloop in the past.  Scot Barbara Smith was there too, just weeks into her new role as CEO of the UK’s biggest Zoo, Chester and clearly relishing the new challenge.  Met Michael Blau and Amy Lynch (VP and Exec. Assistant ) of Adirondack studios. Michael is based out of Singapore while Amy is in the company’s head office in New York, close to the Adirondack mountains.

While the TEA provided a much needed pit stop throughout the day, leading design firm JRA waved gorgosaurus skull iaapa expo orlandothe chequered flag at 5 with Italian wines and chocolates in celebration of their work on Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.   Mike Oswald, and Kevin Ulgenalp , (Director of Operations  and Director of Business Development at Farah Leisure Parks Management) were both over from their respective  Yas island projects, Kevin on Ferrari World, Mike on the water park. 

Ready For The Good Times

If there were perhaps  few game changing rides or ideas on display and the odd  empty booth dotted around, there was undoubtedly a positive mood and many exhibitors reported an enormously successful show.  Line management company Lo-Q’s CEO Tom Burnet estimated they had received over 70 positive leads and EyeClick’s Yuval Golan –  at his first IAAPA  – was pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest  and the quality of the visitors to his booth.  S&S Worldwide’s CEO Rich Allen said that though they are growing rapidly in Asia, “the American economy is definitely recovering and this is reflected in the interest and good leads we are getting from the show.”

As the show closed down for another year and I headed home to be greeted by snow and ice of the non-simulated kind, I reflected on a great week. So what did I learn? That is it entirely possible to exist on a diet of Dippin’ Dots and MiniMelts alone; that the new Harry Potter ride has raised the bar in terms of ride innovation and that the attractions industry, like the head on a Butterbeer, shows extraordinary resilience.

Images : from the top – 1. model surfer on the American Wave machines booth. 2. Robt "singing in the rain" courtesy Engineered Arts. 3. Clown fish by BauArt. 4. David Rosenberg and Mike Chamberlain of Monterey Bay Aquarium with Tara Pies 5. Dragon skeleton at The Wizarding Wolrd of Harry Potter. 6 Ross Magri and Janine Baker 7.Gorgosaurus skull.