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IAAPA Expo 2021

IAAPA Expo returns with focus on the future

Key attractions industry event featured new announcements, innovative products and more

IAAPA Expo 2021 returned to Orlando last week, for the first time since 2019. With travel restrictions lessened, over 28,000 attendees descended on the Orange County Convention Center to meet and network with industry peers. 

There was great excitement throughout the week with exhibitors showcasing new products and services, developed during the last two years. The general feeling from the show floor was that the quality of the attendees was very good – those that made the trip were here to do business. 

Blue Milk at Star Wars Galaxys Edge
Blue or Green Milk?

“The successful turnout for IAAPA Expo 2021 is a testament to the resilience and continued growth and strength of the global attractions industry,” said Hal McEvoy, president and CEO, IAAPA. “It’s been a phenomenal week, bringing together the innovators who are moving our industry forward and building the future of attractions.”

Events, educational sessions and more

IAAPA Expo 2021 had several big events including Lunch and Learn with Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks and Experiences where D’Amaro announced the expansion for Disneyland’s Toontown for 2023. Attendees could also explore a galaxy far far away with the IAAPA Celebrates event. This took place at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

There was a full education schedule throughout the show. The Thinkwell and JRA trends session showcased the weird and wonderful trends of the last few years. This explored everything from virtual exhibitions, drive through attractions and a focus on inclusivity and diversity to Ratatouille the Tik Tok musical.

At the end of the session, attendees could open an envelope on their seats. This contained a resume of an industry creative whose job was affected by the pandemic. Attendees were then encouraged to reach out to them if they could help in any way. 

Legends on a superhero

It was standing room only at the Legends Panel on Wednesday. This panel discussion is a regular IAAPA session hosted by Bob Rogers, founder and CEO of BRC Imagination Arts. It saw three leading creatives behind the original Spider-Man attraction at Universal discuss its creation and enduring popularity.

Thierry CoupPhil Hettema and Scott Trowbridge, each with decades of experience creating ground-breaking theme park attractions, highlighted the dedication and sheer tenacity involved when bringing to life the hugely influential ride.

Spider-Man utilised revolutionary new technology. The team created what is still considered by many, 20 years after its creation, the world’s best theme park attraction. As Hettema said, “My body can’t tell how they’re doing it, and I know how it works!”

Another panel spoke on the future of theme parks with speakers from Lionsgate, Third Floor, City Neon and Rise Award winner Worldbuildr. The panel agreed that future experiences will be personalised and created by the guests themselves.

“Game engines are the sound stages of the future, we can do just about anything in them,” said Chris Edwards, CEO of The Third Floor. Game engines will be used to create real-time experiences and also to enable designers on the creation and collaboration for projects.

Acquisitions announced at IAAPA Expo 2021

It was a bumper week of news at the show. In a joint event, Keith James, CEO of JRA and Ryan Stana, founder of RWS Entertainment Group announced that JRA had been acquired by RWS. James will stay on as president of JRA.

The partnership will form an exclusive, full-service provider of guest experiences and attractions. It will have offices in New York and London as well as Cincinnati. With over a dozen projects opening in 2022, the partnership also expands JRA’s work into new sectors. For instance, cruise ships and live entertainment. 

In addition, Roto, a leading planning and design firm announced its acquisition of Orlando-based Brilliant Creative Fabrication. Having worked closely on many projects, the partnership will allow both companies to expand design-build and production offerings to themed entertainment, museum, brand experiences and attractions worldwide. In addition to the 50,000 square feet of manufacturing space, Roto will also set up a satellite office in Orlando.

“We are looking forward to providing enhanced capabilities to projects worldwide and creating experiences that engage and inspire visitors,” said Joseph Wisne, CEO of Roto. 

New chapters

Industry veterans Chuck Fawcett and Daren Ulmer officially launched their new company Medici XD at IAAPA Expo 2021. Nathan Jones takes on the role of CEO as well as leading the Machines product line. The new company has also acquired Mousetrappe, whose current president Eric Hungerford will remain at the helm of the new Medici Media division.

The company is creating a $6m facility in Nashville. It will soon announce an acquisition in the interactives division and a key new hire in the theatrical division.

Medici XD Management
L-R: Eric Hungerford, Daren Ulmer, Chuck Fawcett and Nathan Jones

Video games and animation software firm Unity announced it will acquire New Zealand based VFX studio Weta Digital. Now creators and artists will be able to use Weta’s VFX tools to shape the future of the metaverse. 

“Weta Digital’s tools created unlimited possibilities for us to bring to life the worlds and creatures that originally lived in our imaginations,” said Sir Peter Jackson, founder of Weta Digital.

“Together, Unity and Weta Digital can create a pathway for any artist, from any industry, to be able to leverage these incredibly creative and powerful tools. Offering aspiring creatives access to Weta Digital’s technology will be nothing short of game-changing and Unity is just the company to bring this vision to life.”

2 years of innovation and projects

Also during the show, Storyland Studios, Alterface and Ubisoft announced the development of the first-ever Ubisoft Entertainment Center located at Studios Occitanie Méditerranée, France. The attraction will use three-dimensional storytelling as well as Alterface’s Wander technology.

“We’re creating unlimited opportunities for guests who want to engage with our experience on a deeper level, to do so in an interactive, personalized and ever-evolving way,” adds Etienne Sainton, product manager at Alterface. The attraction is expected to open in 2025.

Ubisoft entertainment center storyland

Simworx and Katapult have launched their Ferrari Experience attraction concept at IAAPA Expo 2021. The media-based midway attraction concept includes immersive simulator rides, as well as an esports hub and exclusive themed dining experiences. 

Sally Dark Rides also announced two new projects at the show. First, a pirate-themed interactive dark ride in partnership with Daniels Wood Land on Cannery Row in Monterey Bay, California. This is the first time Sally and DWL have partnered on both ownership and production of an attraction.

Treasure Hunt_Sally Dark Ride

Secondly, Sally will be creating an immersive dark ride at Lost Island Theme Park called VOLKANU — Quest for the Golden Idol. The attraction will be located inside the park’s iconic volcano and is currently in construction in Waterloo, Iowa. 

Innovative experiences and partnerships revealed at IAAPA Expo 2021

Falcon’s Beyond Global announced the plan to develop Katmandu, a world-class theme park in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. The $350 million investment will create a leading entertainment, dining and retail destination in partnership with Meliá Hotels.

PlayPower launched PlayPower Tech to bring interactive experiences into physical play spaces. The new venture with Denise Chapman Weston and Rick Briggs will integrate Epic Game’s Unreal Engine technology into physical entertainment spaces to create real-time interactive play.

Meanwhile, Triotech announced that Carnival Chaos Hyper Ride is coming to Niagara Falls in summer 2022. Triotech’s new Hyper Ride system takes up a smaller footprint and is more budget-friendly than traditional dark ride types. The attraction will feature seven interactive scenes with five ride cars in a 6,000 square foot show building. 

Triotech Hyper Ride Cart

Extreme Engineering also launched four new products during the IAAPA Expo. This includes three new suspended coasters as well as Parkour Around. The new parkour attraction will allow guests of any age and ability to jump at great length, height and speed attached to a patent-pending Extreme Engineering-designed assist device. 

During IAAPA Expo 2021, Zamperla debuted its new family thrill launch coaster. This features a multiple pass launch and a vertical spike, as well as forward and backward track sections. The new ride is ideal for pre-teens and families with a height requirement of just 42 inches. This follows a busy year for the company. Earlier this year, it announced the Double Heart coaster and Family Lift & Launch concepts.  

New projects announced

WhiteWater gave insights into upcoming projects and announced its corporate-wide Sustainability Scorecard. It plans to halve its waste by 2030 and become net-zero by 2040. The company has also invested widely in its regional offices to increase the offering for its clients.

In addition, the company has seen a large growth in Endless Surf, with projects in the Gold Coast, Port Douglas and Munich. Endless Surf’s ‘Surf Concierge’ utilises the company’s Vantage software to manage sessions tailored to the guests’ skill levels. Atlantic Dubai recently chose Vantage to provide a single guest experience platform for the Aquaventure Waterpark.

Upcoming projects for 2022 include the Bugs Burrow water play area at Round Rock Texas, Kalahari Resorts, as well as Qetaifan Island North, Qatar which includes the highest waterslide in the world at 80 meters and an impressive Icon Tower which will have 36 waterslides and 2 elevators taking guests to the top.

Attraktion! and Intamin showcased their new collaboration, the Dome Ride Theater, at IAAPA Expo 2021 In the attraction, each guest has a unique ride, featuring 360° uninterrupted views within a large LED media sphere. The first will be installed for a client in the Middle East.

Finally, Polin Waterparks announced its ‘Bright’ new integrated portfolio of waterparks solutions. This will help amusement facilities move towards a more sustainable operation. It also showcased the latest from their R&D department. For instance, new glassy transparent slides with a light package for nighttime and new products Stingray, Galaxy, Nebula and Rift. 

Around the IAAPA Expo 2021 show floor

Animax and City Neon had their newest innovation, Atom, on the booth. The customisable humanoid character is an affordable platform for any themed environment. Operators can programme the animatronic in real-time, allowing attractions to edit and tweak content very easily through the software. 

Embed was showcasing its latest innovation KIOSK+, a slim, self-service kiosk that also has one of the sector’s largest touchscreen displays and modularity. At the last in-person IAAPA Expo in 2019, the company launched the Mobile Wallet. This is still the only non-banking, finance-payment of loyalty card business to sit in the consumer’s Google Pay or Apple wallet. 

Ka’ana Wave Co. showcased their award winning CM7 Series – Deep Water Surf Machines, capable of producing any type of wave in any body of water for any type of guest. The product won first place for the IAAPA Brass Ring Best New Product: Concept Award and there was a miniature model on the stand showcasing the various heads and wakes produced.

DOF Robotics presented its new Monster Jam simulator in collaboration with FELD Entertainment. This new VR experience moves on 6 axes to create pitch, roll and yaw movements for a realistic ride.

DOF IAAPA Expo 2021 Products

During the IAAPA Expo 2021, SPREE Interactive announced partnerships with I.E Park Soli Car and SALA Entertainment to bring VR Bumper Cars to Saudi Arabia. The Cyberblaster, created by SPREE and PIXOMONDO, challenges guests to work together to battle drones and computer viruses in a futuristic world.

Attendees could catch Ripley’s Jim Pattison having his beard cut off live during the show and donating his hair to the Guinness World Record attempt ‘HOSS’, the largest hairball in the world. The attempt is raising money for Give Kids the World. Attendees could also donate their hair and money from the show floor. 

Celebrating winners

IAAPA also revealed the Brass Ring 2021 winners during the show. These awards celebrate excellence in attractions and new products across the industry. Winners included Vekoma, Holovis, Triotech, wiegand.waterrides, ProSlide, WhiteWater, Safemark, Semnox, NXT Capture, Falcon’s Creative Group, Alterface, Extreme Engineering, Mack Rides, Martin Aquatics, Ka’ana Wave Co., Animax and Polin Waterparks. 

Both Madame Tussauds and the ‘father of the attractions industry in Latin America’ Marcelo Gutglas were welcomed into the IAAPA Hall of Fame.

Jason E. Freeman was awarded the IAAPA Meritorious Service Award; Rajen Shah, Managing Director of Arihant Industrial Corporation Ltd was given the IAAPA Outstanding Service Award; and John (Jack) Mendes Jr of BSR Group LLC has been awarded the IAAPA Lifetime Service Award Winner. Chris Desch General Manager at Jen’s Links LLC won the IAAPA Young Professional of the Year award. 

Thea Awards and the TEA

TEA party at ICON Park Orlando IAAPA Expo 2021
TEA Members at the party at IAAPA Expo 2021

The Themed Entertainment Association announced the 2021 Thea Award winners at IAAPA Expo, recognising excellence in projects across themed entertainment. Winners included Mario Kart at Universal Japan; Elephant Springs, Fort Worth Zoo, Texas; Gideon’s Bakehouse at Disney Springs, Walt Disney World Resort; Disney’s Stuntronics aerial robotics technology and Weta Workshop Unleashed. See the full list here

Doris Hardoon was the winner of the coveted Buzz Price award for a lifetime of distinguished Achievement. This follows her long career with WED Enterprises and working on all six Magic Kingdom-style Disney Parks before launching her own consultancy DDesign.

Carmen Smith and Sina Bahram were recognised with the Thea Catalyst Award. Meanwhile, Lynn Allmandinger is the winner of the TEA Peter Chernack Distinguished Service Award for exceptional volunteer service to the Association. 

The TEA party took place at the ICON during the Expo. It welcomed over 800 members to connect and network with industry peers before riding the wheel. The Association also held its annual meeting and announced its incoming and outgoing board members

Future events

If you missed IAAPA Expo 2021, you can still register for the IAAPA Expo digital pass. This gives access to the digital pass conference sessions and participating exhibitors for all three recent expos until 31st December 2021. 

The next IAAPA event will be the EMEA Christmas Summit taking place at Europa-Park on 9th December 2021. 

IAAPA Asia Expo will take place in Hong Kong from 7 – 10 June 2022, IAAPA Europe will take place in London from 12 – 15 September 2022, and finally, IAAPA Expo will take place from 14 – 18 November 2022. 

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