Last month, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, also known as IAAPA, held its annual Expo in Orlando, Florida. IAAPA hosts this expo to “spread successful ideas and practices. We also provide valuable tools and resources that make all of our businesses smarter, safer, and more profitable while delivering guest experiences that surprise and delight.”
On the first day of the expo, November 13th, I had the opportunity to play in the 19th annual “Give Kids the World” golf event at Shingle Creek Golf Course. This event has been a highlight of my time in Orlando for the past several years. The weather cooperated for most of the outing, with scattered rain and cloud cover into the afternoon. We were called back into the clubhouse twice as a caution for thunder strikes, and then we finished the round and enjoyed a brief lunch to celebrate another sold-out event.
My first day at IAAPA began with a guided tour of the Universal Studios Velocicoaster ride. Along with the golf event, this tour also sold out quickly, and for a good reason. As it turned out, it was another highlight of my trip to Orlando. While waiting to board the bus from the Orange County Convention Center to the park, I met Doug Akers, VP of Operations, with Universal Studios. Doug recently returned stateside from assignments in Asia. I greatly appreciated our time together during the tour.
Overall, the Velocicoaster ride was such a wonderful experience! If you have not yet experienced the coaster, take a calculated risk and queue up for a quick burst of adrenaline. I will spare you any spoilers other than to say it is worth the wait. I look forward to my next trip to Universal soon to enjoy this experience again.
We wrapped up the tour with a lunch presentation by Universal Creative, Technical, and Operations. It was an intriguing story about character and IP-based ride development delivered by passionate professionals. The team did an incredible job facilitating this excellent experience and learning event!
As karma or luck would have it, I met Jakob Stahl, incoming CEO of IAAPA, in the elevator at our hotel after lunch. I offered him congratulations on his promotion. From there, I continued the brisk stroll to the show, and Hal McAvoy and I met on the way to the convention center. Hal led our organization as CEO through the last year and the challenges presented by the pandemic. It was a bit of serendipity to meet the outgoing and incoming leaders for IAAPA over a 15-minute walk! Right place at the right time, as they say!
The IAAPA event kicked off with an update on the state of the industry and a motivating presentation by Abigail Posner with Google. She delivered a passionate presentation and story about following our unique gifts and building networks with different talents. I’m not sure how IAAPA found Abigail, but she had set the tone for the wrap-up of the kickoff event! From there, we launched onto the show floor for day one of the exhibit space.
On the exhibit floor, I reconnected with many old friends and even made a few. Thanks to Sean Reish with TAIT for taking time out of your busy show to provide insights and guidance about design and engineering opportunities. I also visited WhiteWater and met Matt Regan during a standup conversation with Claudio Barrera and Jesse Crawford. I briefly toured the Brunswick Bowling exhibit. We have worked with Brunswick on numerous projects, and it’s always great to gather insights about our work through interaction with consumers.
Attendance at the show totaled 37,000 attendees. This data point is encouraging and points to the accelerated return to profitable performance for the parks, museums, and other attractions. We look forward to the next expo in this dynamic industry, as well as a return to Universal to enjoy all of the entertainment and attractions that the theme park has to offer.