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Confidence, Optimism and New Technologies Highlight IAAPA Attractions Expo 2022
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Two-years post lockdown, the global attractions industry enters its convention season with a confidence and optimism unseen since the COVID crisis disrupted the planet.

Although the pandemic may have ended, its repercussive dual trends of inflation and labor shortages remain persistent challenges. But the reality was in 2022, families were visiting amusement parks in numbers far exceeding the comeback year of 2021. The Amusement Parks Global Market Report (2022) forecasted the global amusement parks market to grow from $42.68 billion in 2021 to $70.06 billion in 2022, a growth mainly attributed to a the effective recovery from the impact of coronavirus restrictions on operations. 

As the parks and other event centers regain stability, so have the conventions, with a higher attendance and more activity than the 2021 event.  IAAPA Expo 2022 – the premier international attractions industry event – is expected to feature about 1,000 exhibitors and attract more than 25,000 industry professionals to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. The show runs Nov. 14-18 with the educational conference starting November 14 and the trade show floor opening the next day.

Exciting Time

Considered to be the largest trade show and convention for the attractions industry, IAAPA Expo attracts a full gamut of industry professionals, including: general managers, owners, and CEOs of theme parks, amusement parks, zoos, aquariums, and water parks.

 “It is an exciting time in the attractions industry as we continue on the path of recovery from the pandemic, and our members are looking for new innovative products and services from our manufacturers and suppliers to enhance their guests' experiences,” said Hal McEvoy, chief executive officer and president, IAAPA. “IAAPA Expo in Orlando continues to be the premier showplace for the latest innovations to create fun and make memories for our industry. This is also an important event for connecting, sharing best practices, hearing from the industry's top leaders and experts, and working on your professional development needs.”

“Attendees have come to expect global representation at IAAPA Expo and the travel restrictions in place last year proved difficult to secure speakers from outside the United States,” said Caitlin Dineen, Director of Global Communications. “With IAAPA Expo 2022, we already have increased representation across the globe in our speaker lineup and the return of popular region-based ticketed events not offered at IAAPA Expo 2021. This year's agenda includes the Asia Pacific Breakfast, Latin America Lunch and Learn, and Canadian Breakfast, which features the incoming IAAPA Chairman, Jim Pattison Jr. President of Ripley Entertainment Inc. These regional-based events present great opportunities for member-to-member connections, and we are elated to have them back within our offerings.”

Exhibitor Growth

One of the more noticeable and welcomed differences between the 2021 comeback and the 2022 restoration is an expanded trade show floor, which topped out at 878 last year and by mid-September exceeded 1,000 exhibitors. “Exhibitors have increased their booth size compared to 2021,” she said. “We are also seeing new companies contracting space. The family entertainment pavilion has seen a great increase compared to last year. We currently have 150+ new exhibitors.”

Much of this new growth in providers of products and services has been fueled by an unanticipated side-effect of the global pandemic crisis – a surge in technological innovation in the industry.  “We expect a continuation of trends we saw at this year's IAAPA Expo Europe in London,” she said. “The trade show floor was full of the latest innovations and emerging technologies. The show floor in Orlando will feature the always-popular “Rides and Equipment Pavilion,” which accounts for more than a quarter of the indoor trade show space.

IAAPA Expo Europe, which concluded on the ides of September, successfully transitioned from recovery to restoration and the expectation is that the U.S. convention follows a similar pattern. IAAPA Expo Europe had a reported 1,474 registered attendees, including 7,510 qualified buyers representing 4,408 buying companies, and 530 exhibiting companies.

 “The excellent learning and networking opportunities at this year's IAAPA Expo Europe are a reminder that the global attractions industry is resilient and is striving to move forward,” said McEvoy.  “Expo is an event unlike any other where industry leaders get together to share their successes, learn about the next wave of innovation, and see how they can improve their own business operations by talking to others.”

Recovery Then, Restoration Now

The global attractions industry navigated through COVID and its economic challenges, and it seems that journey has instilled a determination industry-wide. “Last year was a recovery year and those that were able to attend were grateful to be back together face-to-face again,” said Dineen. “This year, we are seeing an increased enthusiasm as demonstrated with an increased number of exhibitors as well as square footage contracted. Our attendee numbers increase every day and are following the registration pacing of Expos prior to the pandemic. The attitude among the industry is very positive, with many of our operators enjoying prosperous 2022 seasons.”

She noted the prosperity was the main reason for an upbeat attitude. 2022 has proven to be an outstanding year for the outdoor event industry, especially for IAAPA members. “The strong demand from guests to come out and spend time together that was seen after many attractions reopened last year carried into 2022. Staffing remains an issue with the industry, but has improved from 2021 into 2022, allowing operators to expand their available offerings at their parks and destinations and increase their operating hours.”

This growth has emerged with two economic challenges – inflation and the tight-job market that are proving to be pesky flies in the recovery ointment – and the industry has found strategies to cope with these impediments. “Globally, the attractions industry is keeping a close eye on inflation and how it affects buying and selling power everywhere,” she said. “Inflation not only affects budgets at theme parks and attractions, but the discretionary spending of guests and visitors. Attendance has slowed for many parks and attractions, but per capita spending has remained strong. Dynamic pricing models continue to be the primary tool parks use to control attendance and determine discounts related to inflation.

She added, “A tight labor market has forced IAAPA members to find creative solutions to fill their staffing needs. New avenues for recruiting, creative ways to incentive increased hours, and retention strategies have been shared within IAAPA programming in the past 2 years. Parks and attractions are competing for staff more than ever now that wages have increased in several sectors like the fast-food industry.  In the United States, the return of the J-1 Visa Summer Work Travel Program was a huge benefit to both IAAPA members that have utilized it before and those that participated for the first time in 2022.”

The IAAPA Expo 2022 promises to be an ideal forum to discover new solutions to the array of 21st century challenges. “IAAPA creates many opportunities for our members to collaborate and share best practices with each other for the betterment of the attractions industry as a whole,” she said. “During the pandemic and reopening there was increased levels of this collaborative behavior. We expect that these relationships and connections between members to continue to grow and for our industry to take on the latest challenges together.”

Perhaps the most palpable enticement is that for an industry based on providing live experience to its customers, in-person networking is an essential component for its professionals. “There is nothing like face-to-face. Experiencing the thrill of a roller coaster or the smell and taste of a new food product just can't be done over Zoom. Our members want to be able to see new products and meet with manufacturer and suppliers in person, all under a single roof. Regardless of the needs of a member facility, they can find a supplier here on the show floor.”
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