Fairs are ready to Strike It Rich! for their final meeting in Las Vegas. The International Association of Fairs and Expositions' (IAFE) 127th Annual Convention & Trade Show will be held Nov. 26-29 at the Paris and Bally's Hotels in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Next year - after 40 years in Last Vegas - what is considered the largest gathering of the fair industry, will begin a new chapter. The 2018 convention will be held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas. But for this year, an upbeat industry is ready to come together, meet and discuss the issue facing the industry - which include security concerns and the role of agriculture in today's culture.
For its Las Vegas swan song, the IAFE is reporting that the trade show floor has been sold out, and that registration ahead of Convention is tracking up over 2016.
The theme - selected by IAFE Chairman Becky Brashear of the Maryland State Fair - was not chosen as a way to improve the bottom line of fairs, but to reflect the how fairs invest in their respective communities around the world. "The 'Striking It Rich!' theme for the 2017 Convention has resonated with members throughout the year," said Marla Calico, President and CEO, IAFE. "Convention themes are the work of our Program Committee. Striking it Rich! is the key to sharing the story of how fairs impact their communities, and as part of the theme we asked fairs to tell us how many scholarships and the total dollar amount of scholarships they award annually. The grand total will be revealed during our Monday general session."
Attendees should be prepared to be wowed by the final figure. According to a pre-convention press release, a year-long survey of IAFE members indicated that fairs and fair associations contribute more than $43 million in scholarships to help students continue their education.
But the theme also indicates the value for fair industry professionals in attending the convention. " Striking it Rich also means that by attending the Convention, our members will find some "golden nuggets" of insight and information in the education sessions as well as find great products and services in our trade show," she added.
Compared to recent years, where declining attendance and the economic recession and its aftermath negatively impacted many fairs, this year the attitude among IAFE membership is decidedly optimistic. "I can only report what I hear from members and that is upbeat," she said. "Reports we've seen indicate it was a good year, and the weather generally more cooperative in the Midwest than 2016, thus many of the fairs in the center of the country saw increased attendance. On the other hand, very hot weather had a negative impact on some fairs in California.
She added, "We continue to see that when weather cooperates in any given year about 2/3 of all fairs will report an increase or steady attendance. It is the minority of fairs with reports of declining attendance for any other reason. Nothing in the decision for the "Striking it Rich" theme had any focus or intent to discuss "bottom line" issue for fairs."
The opening general session of the Convention will feature a keynote address from Author and On-Air Commentator Mel Robbins. Other keynoters include Greg Peterson of the Peterson Farm Bros., and Inspirational Speaker and Rodeo Star Amberly Snyder. "Our members are "AGRICULTURAL" fairs and they understand their mission and objectives," said Calico. "They understand the unique position they are in to provide accurate and timely information to fair guests, many of which are generations removed from day-to-day agriculture. Our members are actively focusing on "ag-education" projects and programs geared to the fair guest."
She added that the Tuesday general session is ag-focused, and that Peterson, of the Peterson Farm Brothers " are social media sensations with their entertaining and educational videos. Their parody, "I'm Farming and I Grow It" received more than 5 million views in more than 200 countries in two weeks.
Security at fairs - a topic at IAFE conventions since 2001, according to Calico - will receive an appropriate emphasis, especially in light of the ongoing rash of mass shooting the U.S. Calico pointed out that fairs are very aware of the threat of violence, especially at a high profile target with a concentration of people such as a fair. Every incident raises that awareness even more," she said. "We already had scheduled for the 2017 Convention a four-hour course on emergency preparedness, and I know the instructor has updated content in light of the horrible massacre in Las Vegas in October. We already had scheduled a session from the US Department of Homeland Security regarding services and training available to our members. We attempted to schedule an additional session with representatives from DHS and waited as long as possible, but due to other commitments we were unable to get the right person there to present."
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The Annual IAFE Trade Show, which runs from Monday through Wednesday, features more than 275 vendors (in about 400 booths). The Trade Show Lounge is sponsored by the IAFE Education Foundation.
"This year's Trade Show is filled with the latest products, services, and attractions for fairs - the ultimate one-stop shop for all fair needs," said Steve Siever, Trade Show Manager, IAFE. "We will also have live performances at the two showcasing stages located in the back left and back right portion of the Trade Show - giving attendees a chance to experience our exhibitors in action."
In terms of industry trends, wireless technologies will have a stronger presence among the 2017 tradeshow floor exhibitors. "We have noticed an increase in the exhibitors with technology services, especially as it relates to ticketing and cashless midways," said Calico.
In addition, the convention features Ed Shed, which houses the workshop and round table sessions as well as IAFE Contest entries, member benefit exhibits, and the Training Corral, which will be the location for various educational opportunities, including Campfire Sessions, specialized presentations from IAFE Contest winners. "Eleven education committees convened more than 30 meetings over the past year to contribute content suggestions," said Calico. "The Program Committee, led by Jessica Underberg of the Erie County Fair in New York, has incorporated this input and more to present a program which closely aligns with the Association's focus areas from the strategic plan: Agriculture, Facilities, Funding, People, and Programming. With over 150 educational sessions offered, this year's Convention program is unparalleled."
Workshops will cover a wide variety of topics on making fairs even better for fairgoers. Topics on crowd safety, ADA compliance, community building, and strategic planning make up just a few of the educational opportunities. One special track will focus on what industry leaders think fairs will look like in 20 years. The fatal Ohio State Fair ride accident has also been taken into account in the Ed Shed. Many fairs immediately following the incident had to increase their messaging as well as reexamine their ride inspection procedures. As a result, the association created a special workshop: "Are Your Prepared When There's an Amusement Ride Crisis? What We Learned."
Keep posted to CarnivalWarehouse.com for additional IAFE convention coverage all week.
2017 SLA / IAFE Trade Show Coverage