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In depth

IAAPA ’09: View from the Floor – a Trade Show Diary.

From 17th to 20th November 2009, the IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) Attractions Expo took place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, USA.  For the first time ever, the world’s biggest event in this sector was held in the capital of gambling and entertainment. Charles Read took a break from the slots…

Day one – Flight.

One of the things you look for in a flight is that it is uneventful. Left Heathrow in what the papers reckoned was one of the worst storms of the year, a white knuckle ride with the unflappable pilot in his James Bond voice informing us there was a bit of turbulence. “You don’t say!” replied a few hundred passengers as their tea spilled on their laps. Eight hours later, somewhere high over Canada, we are forced into an emergency landing: drunks fighting with hostesses, then trying to get into the cockpit. We land in Calgary to be met by a flurry of police cars. I will miss my connecting flight and earnestly hope the miscreants get a good kicking from the Mounties.

It’s my first time in Las Vegas – the city of which Steve Wynn once said, “It’s how God would do it if he had the money” – and the airport seems slightly surreal: banks of slot machines cheek-by-jowl with enormous stone animals (right).

Day two – Setup.

Someone with a clipboard arrives and I explain that my booth has gone. She doesn’t seem put out by this but instead phones for a man to come and set me up a new booth. The guy I hired my TV from can only bring it to the door, a mere 50 yards away. He stands there, waiting for a union man to wheel it over . A separate union man then has to put the TV onto the stand, then a new union guy has to plug it in. My rental guy stands next to me yawning. I wonder how many union men it takes to put in a light bulb. I reflect on what a great job the organisers do in making this chaotic workspace look so beautiful on the opening day.

Day three. – Tuesday, first day of show.

Booth next to me is of an agency fixing up men with  women from Eastern Europe. Company flyer proclaims they are “untainted by Western feminism.”

After lunch I attend a press reception and announcement of a Nigerian theme park set to break ground next year. The operator is The CDS Group and they will work with Chance Morgan and ProSlide for the rides. The plan looks impressive and detailed.

Seems to be a small British enclave, up by the coin-op section. Quite a sociable affair. Think that next year some enterprising company should make their booth into a full blown pub, “The Dog and Duck” maybe… Meet Pan Amusement’s Paul Whittaker, who is showcasing Pan’s latest electronic shooting gallery (left) and Elton GamesTony Whittaker (no relation). His company now has a luminous pirate themed version of their popular redemption game.

After the show floor closes for the day, Blooloop’s industry interviewer Chad Emerson and I eat at the Daniel Boulud restaurant at the Wynn Hotel. Tough to focus on my vegetables as immediately to my left a bizarre and rather splendid spectacle is revealed: The Lake of Dreams, the Wynn’s stunning water-laser-projection spectacular. It’s dinner, Vegas style. Later, at the Elvis-themed party hosted by BRC Imagination Arts, I treat my digestive system with gay abandon, sample the peanut butter and banana sandwiches and eye up the fried dill pickles. I happily rub shoulders with a galaxy of stars from the themed entertainment business including Nick Farmer (Farmer Attraction Development), Daren Ulmer (Mousetrappe), Kevin Murphy (Event Communications Ltd.), Bart Dohmen (BRC), Dina Benadon (Super 78), Tony Sefton (Vision XS), Lesley Morrisetti (AECOM), Martin Barratt (future head of BALPPA) and Dr. Wolfgang Wilke (Design Vision), who also happens to be a nuclear physicist.

Day FourWednesday.

Leaving the booth in charge of our assistant, Alessandra Plattner, who is experiencing the glories of IAAPA for the first time, I pick up a tub of Dippin’ Dots – part of my show floor calorie controlled diet – and head to the Black Hills Institute’s booth (right). I love dinosaurs and prehistory and their booth is always spectacular. It’s a simple display: a table, a couple of chairs, and a mammoth. No need of gadgets and gimmicks when you have the remains of a 6-ton, prehistoric elephant commanding your exhibit.

At the SimEx-Iwerks booth, I sit down to view the new Happy Feet attraction film. Am wearing 3D glasses along with everyone else in the theatre. Think my eyes are going funny as they aren’t registering it as 3D. Find out afterwards it is a rough cut and not yet rendered into 3D. When I get back to the Blooloop booth, my editor Judith Rubin, who has more than a passing familiarity with SimEx-Iwerks, gives me one of her mini-lectures on industry history. I learn that although it is now commonplace, not too many years ago digital conversion of live action footage into 3D was a huge technological breakthrough. It was a big factor in the expansion of Imax and giant-screen cinema into the mainstream. Judith told me about a 2D-to-3D process she helped to promote in the 1990s on behalf of Christopher Reyna, founding president of the former Large Format Cinema Association (now GSCA). One of the early demos of this process was attended by Don Iwerks.

IAAPA’s awards are announced. Ride developer S&S Worldwide, Inc. receives the “Impact Award” for its lasting impact in the industry, as well as the “Best New Product Award” for its Free Fly roller coaster concept (below left). UK based interactive cartoon attractions company AnimaLive is awarded the coveted First Place Award for Best New Product for Show Production and Entertainment.

SCS Interactive’s new product, the Cannonball, now available in the North American market was also launched at the show. Lindsey Hammond explains that it is based on the idea of a water cannon, the attraction firing the rider up to 23 feet into a swimming pool.

Alterface received an honorable mention there in the ‘Major Theme / Amusement Park Ride / Attraction – 2009 Best New Product’ category for the excellence of its interactive technology. The award is the second in a row won by Alterface at an IAAPA Expo, following the ‘Impact Award’ received in 2008 in Orlando, Florida.

Chat with Daniel Fabrizi and Santiago Barbero at Coin-Tech, cashless management technology specialists. They have launched their new “Experience” card swipe,   a new generation of debit card swipe which combines a large high definition LCD display, bright colour LEDs and a greater information volume – reaching a new level of customer interaction.

The Hi-Tech area of the show, with the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) booth as its nucleus, features a host of companies showcasing their design skills. Creatures and monsters and wonderful things abound. I experience booth envy. Adrian Fisher Design’s booth is just 20 ft by 20 ft, yet manages to incorporate a mirror maze, a fireplace, a castle wall and a secret meeting room. Animalive have their animated characters interacting with slightly bewildered visitors (“Heck, I’m talking to a turtle here”), Garner Holt boasts a 12-foot mantis, Mirage Entertainment have Spider-Man, Electrosonic has a razor-sharp videowall.

The evening finds two brilliant parties: the Electrosonic party and the TEA party which are happily conveniently close to one another. Chad and I take in “Ka” at the MGM Grand, Cirque du Soleil’s rather astonishing show. The theatre was specifically designed and built for this production at a cost of $160 million. As 30 acrobats swing around on wires I consider how easily back in the office I get my headphone and land line cables tangled.

Day Five – Thursday.

Had lunch with Tracy Kahaner, Blooloop’s brilliant News Editor,   I’d swear she knows things before they happen…Tracy had been walking the floor with Nick Winslow, who is currently rather busy with the small matter of the USA pavilion for the up and coming World Expo in Shanghai…

The din-filled days and nights of IAAPA (the networking, the presentations, the parties, the hubbub of the show floor) make one long for a quiet room in which to have a good chat. Acoustical engineering specialists, Steve and Lisa Thorburn of Thorburn Associates take this concept to heart and host a lunch gathering at their hospitality suite. Hope they will do it again next year. Dined this evening with the Thorburns and Ross Magri of Sarner. Learned many things about how buildings and projects get LEED points. Steve Thorburn is on a mission to convince the US Green Building Council, which confers LEED status, to give points for videoconferencing installations. Thorburn argues that videoconferencing should be recognized as a component of greenbuilding because it can dramatically reduce the need for travel.

Day Six -Friday.

Have a chat with Andreas Kornprobst from 5D international, the Vienna based attractions company which on Tuesday, had announced an agreement with Six Flags Inc. to bring its first 5-D attraction to the United States. (set to be an anchor attraction as part of Six Flags’ 50th anniversary celebration in 2010). Kornprobst, a jazz enthusiast and bass player, has been recruiting various colleagues with musical prowess to set up a band for industry events. It seems that Tommy Bridges from Alcorn McBride is a brilliant trumpeter who once played with Hoagy Carmichael, and that Electrosonic’s Chris Conte is a gigging guitarist. Too modest to mention that I  play Frere Jacques on the recorder…

Got home finally. Had 2 email inquiries from operators wanting to purchase chocolate pebbles. Were Blooloop a chocolatier, rather than Your Online Gateway to the Attractions Industry, those emails might be considered a ringing endorsement of my decision to bring along these unusual themed chocolates as a freebie. Under the circumstances, I interpret them as an indication of room for improvement in our exhibit and sales pitch.

Chocolates or no, the show was a great success – we signed up many new clients for the Blooloop Directory, accumulated plentiful leads, garnered ideas for future editorial coverage and accelerated our knowledge and understanding of this amazing industry. 2009 has been a tumultuous year for the the global economy and the attractions industry was not spared, but nonetheless I found that the mood on the IAAPA show floor was one of cautious optimism. There are some wonderful projects in development, enticing attractions and arresting innovations to behold, and the show itself was a vibrant and rewarding occasion.  Already looking forward to Orlando next year.

See also:
Amusement parks:Overheard at IAAPA, Las Vegas
Theme Parks and Cultural Attractions: Judy Rubin reports on IAAPA in Las Vegas, Part 2
Coin Tech’s Releases Revolutionize IAAPA Show & Entertainment Industry
Alcorn McBride Wins Exhibitor Award at IAAPA
AnimaLive are proud to have won a Best New Product award at IAAPA Las Vegas 2009
Shooting Galleries: Pan’s Sideshow is a sure-fire winner at IAAPA
Lo-Q launches an enhanced version of its Q-bot system at IAAPA 2009

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