What Is The IAAPA Expo?
In short: it’s the weeklong Black Friday of the amusement industry.
Though that sounds silly, the International Association Of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA) has been around for more than a hundred years, so its annual expos are a well-established site for some serious business. Here, the biggest players and most promising upstarts in the industry make more meaningful connections and close a greater number of sales than they can hope to at any other time of the year. Given that amusement/attractions tend to be a high up-front-investment kind of industry, having a good IAAPA expo experience can be the difference between leading the pack or falling behind in adopting the next biggest thing(s) in both operations management and attractions.
What Happened At IAAPA Expo 2019?
In these spaces, a little bit of chaos and competition is to be expected — after all, the best industry relationships are built on one-up-manship. Or at least the relationships that end up being best for consumers are. IAAPA Expo 2019 was no exception — more than 42,000 industry professionals were in attendance representing companies from every corner (or, rather, curve) of the global attractions industry . Among these attendees, more than 26,000 buyers wrestled their way through to purchase from new exhibitors. Some launches went exceptionally well (VR for amusement parks and VR arcade games are both booming), while other entire genres were unexpectedly lackluster (looking at you, escape rooms) .
What’s not as expected — or maybe totally expected, if you’re familiar with the industry’s biggest players — is just how tight-lipped everyone in every part of the industry is the rest of the year. This secrecy habit made IAAPA Expo 2019 events even more exciting; though there are always guesses about what the biggest announcements, demos, and design launches will be, there were definitely at least a few surprises.
What We Knew To Expect At IAAPA: Improving Operations & VR In Amusement Parks, Disney Dominates Headlines
Across the different exhibition categories, we knew to expect some consistency both in which companies would draw the biggest crowds and which technology would underpin the biggest launches and reveals. To that end, everyone was excited to hear more about the development and success of Galaxy’s Edge (the first major attempt to incorporate VR in amusement park attractions) from Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios . That’s because the success of their efforts (and anything they would be willing to/could be convinced to share about the challenges) would (and did) inform how viable the 75 different VR arcade games and amusement park product/attraction reveals also on the IAAPA Expo 2019 schedule would appear to buyers
Additionally, we expected to see a lot of reveals focused on the less-flashy side of amusement park operations, like using gamification to enhance advertising and data tracking/analytics . And the companies in attendance certainly didn’t disappoint. The most anticipated announcements came from SUMBA, who was expected to (and did) unveil the newest iteration of their all-in-one amusement park operations and risk management platform. Likewise, amusement park sub-industry heavy-hitters Embed and OpenEdge were expected to (and did) showcase the highly-anticipated results of their partnership in tracking and managing payments and cash flows across wildly complex parks with many different, simultaneously-moving parts . Both of which should make incorporating all the flashier, consumer-facing innovations available at IAAPA Expo 2019 that much easier to do.
Some New Product Pitches At IAAPA Surprised Even Us: In VR Arcade Games & Attractions, Smaller Firms Came To Play
At a trade show featuring more than 1,100 exhibitors (1,146, to be exact), it’s not surprising to see a couple product designs with similar approaches to new tech integrations. So it wasn’t wildly surprising that 75 different exhibitions planned to feature VR in amusement park or arcade applications. What was surprising was who came out on top.
The most unexpected reveals came from smaller companies that flew under the radar during the lead-up into the expo. This was especially true in the roller coaster and water park amusement sub-categories, where Zamperla vastly out-performed big-names in the industry (like Busch Gardens and Seaworld) with its design for the “DangleZ” — a coaster with a never-before-seen 160° range of motion . Plus, Ballast Technologies unveiled DIVR, it’s new waterproof system for VR in amusement parks designed to move water parks into the modern age of interactive attractions, as well as DIVR+ which augments the VR experience with built-in water jets and thrusters to enhance VR outer space and undersea experiences .
What’s more, arcade industry underdogs proved that we’ve come a long way since quarter-operated arcade systems. The biggest VR arcade game launches of the expo came in the form of wireless/free-roaming arcade gaming systems (like Hologate) that provide the best new innovation since laser tag . Similarly, enclosed VR arcade game experiences like Hyperdeck sought to (and succeeded in) shaking up the small-footprint arcade category by empowering bystanders to interact with players in-game .