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Storms and Pink Drinks: Note from Singapore’s Asian Expo

The Asian Expo, which took place  from the 21st to 24th June at Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore was by all accounts an enormous success, with the continued growth of the Expo mirroring the growth of the Attractions Industry itself across Asia. 

 
 

illumintaed zebras at the IAAPA Asian Expo in Singapore 1011The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), owners of the show, reported almost 5, 000 visitors to the exhibition and the accompanying conference, making it their most successful Asian event yet. But what was the show like for attendees, did the venue work well and were the early colonists really drinking shocking pink cocktails at Raffles Hotel? 

 
As one of the world’s great cities, Singapore is the world's fourth leading financial centre and its port is one of the five busiest . It is also the second most densely populated city , (pipped to the post by Monaco) with 5.3 million people crammed onto an island just 700 square km. It ranks high on quality of life indexes and with its high percentage of foreign workers (36% are non-Singaporeans) is perhaps the world’s most highly globalised city. With the exhibition held on Sentosa Island, right next door to the (fairly) new Universal Studios Singapore theme park, the city-state was a superb location for IAAPA’s Asian Expo, giving an opportunity for attendees to see one of the world’s leading theme parks up close and personal. 
 
It was this big
 
Whilst IAAPA described the show as “record-breaking”, my guess was that the number of visitors was marginally below that of last year’s Kuala Lumpar show. Furthermore, the venue itself, the “Coliseum” at the Resorts World Sentosa Convention Centre, did not prove itself the most natural exhibition space, with a central ballroom area ringed by a line of additional booths, a layout that was a trifle disorienting.  
 
However, judging the success of a trade show is notoriously difficult: is the number of exhibitors the most telling statistic, the number of attendees or the quality of the buyers? The industry as a whole seems optimistic and nowhere more so than in Asia, where many great projects are on the go and there looks set to be continued growth and development. In the words of Super 78 co-founder Brent Young, “the Asian market is looking to go big and be different”.  The feel of the show and the atmosphere were certainly in keeping with this buoyant mood and the majority of exhibitors were pleased with the week and confident that the number of serious buyers they had met would translate into serious business and serious projects. It’s not all about size.
 
So, how was it for you?
 
peter van bilsen vekoma roller coastersPeter Van Bilsen (left), Senior Vice President Marketing & Sales at Vekoma Rides Manufacturing B.V.: “The IAAPA Singapore was very good in terms of atmosphere, location, events and visitor quality.  The industry is booming again.”
 
Oliver Vincent, Content and Communication Manager at Alterface : “We got great leads from this show.  Asia is the big growing market right now.”
 
Marlyn Weeks, Director, LCI Limited: “Though the number of visitors was perhaps lower than last year, the quality was, if anything, higher so we made a lot of good contacts and had a great show as consequence.”
 
Joseph Joy (left), Vice President, Corporate Development at Vortex International: “We had an excellent show – traffic was very good and interest in our scalable aquatic water amenities was high.”
 
Pauline Quayle, Director, The Juice Brand Ltd: “This was our first Asia show and we enjoyed meeting lots of new contacts. The leads were definitely more quality than quantity but we were very happy with that.  Looking forward to Hong Kong next year.”john wood sally corp dark rides
 
John Wood (right), Chairman and CEO, Sally Corporation: “Access to the world's newest major park development at Universal Sentosa was a big plus for the event. Overall, the show is definitely on the right path for continued success.”
 
yuval golan eyeclickYuval Golan (left), VP Marketing & Business Development, EyeClick: “An ongoing exhibitor at IAAPA shows in the US and Europe, we had a great amount of enthusiasm and anticipation leading up to the Asian Attractions Expo. We had a successful show and we shall continue to build and develop our business in Asia.” 
 
A tempest: real and simulated
 
Late on Wednesday night there was a violent tropical storm. Singapore is battered with lightning and thunder throughout the year with a storm every two days.  Thursday 4am the fire alarm goes off in the hotel and minutes later I'm standing in the downpour in my boxers with the 30 or 40 other guests making polite conversation.  Back in bed by 4:30 and up again at 5 for the fire alarm's encore.  Not a great night but I'm a "glass half full" kind of guy and the storm is something to see.  
 
Back to the show, and half way through the Thurdsay, I was fortunate enough to meet up with Super 78’s Brent Young and Dina Benadon (below left), the creative team behind the enormous new 360-degree multimedia theatre which forms the centrepiece of Resort World Sentosa’s soon to be opened Maritime Xperiential Museum. They kindly gave me and a few others – entertainment dina benadon super 78 studios founderand theme park lawyer Wendy Heimann-Nunes, KB Creative Advisors’ Facility Design Director Su Fei Sakamoto and Shoconcept’s President Steve Ryan – a sneak preview of the film.
 
It took us on a ship bound for Arabia some thousand years ago and through the magic of highly immersive 3 and 4D technology delivered a unique experience including howling gales, dimming lights and the pitches and turns of a vessel in trouble. As with all the best attractions, despite that fact that I was aware of (and indeed looking) for the technology I was quickly immersed in the show and marvelling at the expertise involved in creating such an experience. I think the theatre floor descended at some point – as the boat sank – but couldn’t be entirely sure. It was my second storm of the day but was more manageable as I was not sitting in my underwear.  I was reminded of the storm scene in Disney’s Fantasia as the combination of Zeus and Beethoven sends centaurs scurrying for cover. The maritime/naval museums I visited as a kid were nothing like this.  I think I prefer a simulated storm any day (or night). 
 drinking singapore slings at the IAAPA Asian expo in Singapore 2011
Shooting cowboys
 
Enjoyed a chat with Jody Van Meter (right), Vice President, Marketing at Garner Holt Productions. She has over 30 years experience in the theme park industry, and, as with all top creatives, a conversation with her leaves one chewing upon any number of ideas: is there still any meaningful difference between the phrases “theme park and “amusement park”? With theme parks aimed at teenagers, young families and toddlers, where are the attractions for the baby-boomers, a demographic with money and time on their hands?  As for the creative direction –  cowboys, dinosaurs and pirates are great but what about designing for girls? Is Imagineering all about 40 year old men designing attractions for ten year old boys?
 
On  Thursday night, I attended the Alterface event at the brand new Desperados 3D Interactive Cinema at Sentosa CineBlast, during which I shot cowboys with a gun whilst on horseback with TheJuice's Pauline Quayle, Waterplay’s Bev Jackson and Tony Whittaker from Elton Games. Olivier Vincent, Alterface’s Content and Communication Manager, told me about their recently launched 5Di platform, the aim of which is to bring their interactive dark ride technology to a new market, the smaller FECs pubs, clubs and retail venues . mirror manduring iaapa asian expo singapore 2011
 
Later that evening I headed up to the Long Room at Raffles Hotel, Singapore’s world famous hotel and reputedly the haunt of many celebrities over the last century. Propping up the bar, sipping lurid pink Singapore Slings and dropping peanut shells on the floor (as is customary apparently) I thought of all the great writers who drank at this very bar. Anthony Burgess brought his Droogs here, Conrad took stock before venturing out into the jungles of South East Asia and Somerset Maugham wrote novels under the shade of the frangipani trees. Met up with Mark Dvorchak and John Turner from Pro Forma Advisors LLC, neither of whom were writing. Theirs was a long week and they were off  to China before heading back to the US.
 
A Singaporean friend later revealed to me that Singapore Slings were never pink, the drinks we savoured arrived in crates from China and the original Long Room bar was actually on the ground floor and a hundred yards from where we had been drinking. The whole thing was in fact a themed bar, as authentic as the “top-o-da-morning” “Oirish” pub in which we’d eaten chicken satays earlier in the day. Even Conrad it transpired had never set foot in Raffles. He’d been staying down the road and walked past the newly built hotel on an evening stroll. 
 
A New Kind of Theme Park and an Old Kind of Tree
 
Lunch on the Friday with Bryan Lee, General Manager of d’Strict, one of the show’s Gold sponsors. Bryan has introduced the industry to “Live Park”, d’strict’s 4D theme park experience, which brings an entirely new dimension to the theme park model. Utilising spatial interactive games, mixed reality, hologram performances and merging gaming and mobile technologies it allows a visitor to create their very own highly immersive interactive experience.  ‘Live Park’ includes one of the world’s largest 360 degree panoramic 3D screens and is set for an exclusive preview at the World Premiere Showcase in August 2011, prior to the launch in Novemberbukit timah nature reserve singapore during asian expo iaapa 2011 2011. Watch this space.
 
On my last day, I took a trip to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, all that remains of the tropical forest that once covered the Island.  The 400 year old (and very real) trees I encountered were giants even when the jungle was “infested” with tigers. Since Sir Thomas Raffles first set foot on the Island 200 years ago and built his eponymous hotel, they have seen Singapore transformed into a global power house and one of Asia’s leading cities. The new developments on Sentosa Island, Resorts World and Universal Studios Singapore have added yet more reasons for tourists to stop in the “Lion City” and indeed IAAPA chairman Robert S Rippy believes tourism numbers are strong enough to support a second major theme park on the island.
 
It is this optimism, and this growth across the region that is mirrored in the growth of the theme park and attractions business. For this reason, the show was superb, the venue was an exciting place to be and the evening events worked well: there was business in the air. 

 

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