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Nov. 15, 2022

Preparing for IAAPA Expo 2022

Preparing for IAAPA Expo 2022

Scott and Philip outline their plan for the annual IAAPA expo in Orlando.

Scott and Philip outline their plan for the annual IAAPA expo in Orlando.


Philip: OK, from our studios in Orlando and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm Philip and I'm joined by my co-host Scott Swenson of Scott Swenson Creative Development. This week we're not going to do our normal roundup of the news because, as every attraction professional I'm sure is very aware, this is IAAPA week. IAPPA starts tomorrow, by the time you'll see this, it starts on Monday November 14th, and the trade show opens on Tuesday. So, the conference part starts on Monday and goes all the way through till Friday. This is the biggest theme park and attractions trade show in the world, with over 30,000 attendees, and last year was like 38,000, but a lot of attendees, a lot of professionals, it's not open to the public. It's a big, big show and Scott and I are consumed with preparing for the show. It's one of those things where I was like, "you know, I haven't had time to look at any of the news this week, because all the news has been, "what is happening at IAAPA."

Scott: Yeah, it's really interesting because I've been a member either through a larger corporation, or as an individual, for over 20 years of IAAPA and have attended the Expo almost all of those, if not all of those. It really does become all-consuming, that's a really good phrase here in regards to this, because it's sort of like... Well, it's interesting because when I went to IAAPA as a representative for a larger corporation it was, "let me go see who I want to work with and let me kind of mix and mingle and find those people that I've either heard of or products that I've heard of, but not really seen or touched, or had a chance to learn more about." 

Now that I've flipped over to the other side, now I'm the person that I used to be looking for, does that make any sense at all? It's a unique paradigm shift for me because all of a sudden, I'm there shaking hands meeting, and this particular one I'm actually getting a chance to meet some folks that are clients but I have not met in person, so that's going to be interesting. I'm not really looking for work, I'm using it as a meeting platform for some of the folks that I will be working with in the future. So, that's kind of cool too. Plus, I'm teaching two seminars.

Philip: Yes, I think we should get into all that, but I think it's interesting the point you raise though, which basically is there's something for everyone if you're in the industry IAAPA. I When I talk to people who haven't been to IAAPA ever before, I think that's something that is hard to convey because, really, it does change. At any phase of your career, you see IAAPA in a different light, right? For young professionals, there are young professional mixers, dedicated mixers for young professionals. Also, the TEA has a booth there for the TEA Next Gen program. So, if you're a college student, there's stuff that you can do. If you are a young professional that doesn't have like a manager role yet, but you're younger and you're trying to network, they have that for you. 

Of course, in addition to the trade show, I think Scott and I for the most part, besides when Scott's teaching, at the point where we're at, we're not running around to catch a bunch of classes per say, but that is a big piece of the IAAPA program, the massive amount of education they have. My favorite parts of it were when I used to have time to go to these, but these are my favorite parts. I love the EDU tours where they actually get you on a bus and drive you to local attractions to do case studies where you get to walk around and experience. So, it's one thing to hear about how the transportation system at Disney Works, but it's another thing to go to the TTC and have a tour of the facility, and they teach you while you're walking around. That's what makes it so rare.

Scott: For yeah and the EDU Tours, one of the big ones this year that's already sold out, because for those EDU Tours you have to reserve them because they are a very limited capacity. But the one this year was the Velociraptor Coaster that...

Philip: Yeah, of course.

Scott: That one sold out almost instantly. Because yes, it is a professional trade show, but let's be honest, so many of the people who work in the industry are also fan people within the industry, so we want to see the cool stuff that's coming out from other parks, from other organizations. 

Another thing that I really want to make very, very clear, because I know we have some folks who listen who are not necessarily theme park people, but this also encompasses zoos and aquariums, FECs, museums, I mean and there are mixers and sub-organizations for all of these. What's fascinating to me about Expo is that you can go no matter which part of the industry you belong to, or you work within, and there will be a whole track of both education, as well as vendors, who will be directly targeted to what you do. 

So, if you work in HR, the HR track this year for education is very, very interesting. I say that sort of arrogantly because I'm actually doing a part of a presentation in the HR track. But, you know, this year it seems even more robust than it has been in years past. I also sit on the Entertainment subcommittee, so I'm looking at some of the entertainment offerings as well. I think that if you are involved in any way, on any level up, you will walk away from the IAAPA Expo with something important and something actionable. Whether it is something you learned in one of the classes or seminars, whether it is somebody you met in one of the mixers, or whether it is some new product you found on the trade show floor, I think all of those things are incredibly beneficial to us. 

Just to be there and touch base with people, like I get there, and I touch base with like past clients just to say, "hello, I haven't seen you in forever, it's good to see you." Quite often that usually results in, "oh, by the way, we've got a project coming up that you might be really good for." So, it's beneficial across the board, and no matter where you are in your career. You know, Philip mentioned the young professionals and all the way up to those people who are being recognized by IAAPA as the Masters and the industry leaders, it's the entire spectrum. The cool thing is it gives you the opportunity no matter where you are in your career to meet with people who are in other areas of their career.

Philip: Yeah, yeah.

Scott: For example, I was just invited to be part of what's called a Trail Blazers chat, and this is for people who want to break into the field of attractions. They're doing, I think it's 2 a day for three days this week, they're panel discussions, and not only are they available for those in person, but they're also going to be streamed live from one of the hotels nearby. So, it's a great opportunity to either learn from the ground up or to share what you've learned in your career. So, it really does benefit the industry as a whole, and I strongly recommend it. I know it sounds like a commercial, but I really do strongly recommend it to everyone because it's an amazing experience, and you may not be able to go every year, but trying to figure out how to go at least once every two to three years at least, and be a part of it. Because it is pretty overwhelming.

Philip: Just for a point of clarity because you know me, IAAPA is the organization itself, it stands for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. IAAPA is a membership organization, and they do a lot. They do policy advocation, they do newsletters, they publish Fun World magazine, they do online education, they do mixers, they do a lot kind of all year, so you can be a member of IAAPA. What we're attending is the Expo for the US, but IAAPA also hosts Expos in Europe and in Asia, but they kind of rebranded everything to make it clearer by calling it IAAPA Expo. So, we're shorthand saying we're at IAAPA, but just for a point of clarity, IAAPA is an organization that you can be a member of, which Scott and I are both members of. They also can certify you, Scott and I are both IAAPA Certified attractions executives, they have a certification program. So, IAAPA it does all of that under the IAAPA brand, and then we're at the Expo US.

Scott: Now, Philip you've attended Expos outside the US, haven't you?

Philip: Yes, I've been to both Europe and Asia.

Scott: How do they compare to the Expo in Orlando?

Philip: They're much smaller. I mean, there's no getting around it. You know, Orlando is the theme park capital of the world, for now. Of course, you can tell. This is the place everybody comes, everybody, everybody. I mean, just go on LinkedIn, Facebook, or anything, any social, and you'll see people posting pictures of arriving and the planes, and just everybody comes to this one. That's part of the reason, honestly, I'm sure IAAPA isn't listening, but maybe they are, it doesn't matter. We actually stopped looking at attending Europe because everybody that goes to IAAPA Europe also comes here. So, for us it's basically pointless. If you live in Europe, great, sure, but there's not a single person that we deal with that isn't coming here that is there. 

Asia is a little bit different because Asia is more of a bubble, and that's a very large market that is kind of set to maybe outpace the US attractions market within a few years, right? So, that is the smallest of three still, but it's very different people, and you can feel it. It really is very a different crowd. So, I would say this should be the priority for anybody, but if you are looking at maybe trying to find work in Asia, or expanding into that market, or whatever, you will find people there that do not attend the US or the European shows, that just go to the Asian ones. The other thing, too, is that there are competitors in Asia that are run by some of the other Asian groups. So, it's a little bit more diverse. But here there's really not a competitor. 

I mean, we can talk about all the other shows that are attractions adjacent, but there's not really a competitor of this way where you can get everything that you need for amusements from A-Z, just anything at all, the education, the networking, the hands-on tours, the vendors, every possible service you use in the park is all here. 

So, I thought maybe we should go through our schedule and kind of illustrate what we're looking at doing while we're here at Expo.

Scott: Well, it's interesting that I'm still in Tampa, because right after we finish recording this, I'm hopping in the car and driving over to Orlando. Interestingly enough, Philip is also hopping in the car and driving over to Tampa to do...

Philip: We're switching places.

Scott: So, it's like, this is so weird. But anyway. So, yeah, looking at my schedule, as a member of the Entertainment Subcommittee, I have a meeting this evening at 6, and then following that is the planning Committee appreciation reception. So, there's some pretty heavy-duty glad-handing, if that's right, I don't know. I'm excited because I get to see the Entertainment Subcommittee people in little boxes on my computer screen, and then once a year I get to see them all in person and get to say hello and we get to catch up. So, that's actually starting on Sunday night.

Then Monday morning... So, I'm actually teaching two seminars, one is a group seminar which is part of the HR track, like I mentioned earlier, which is on Monday the 14th at 4:00 PM, and it's called No Laughing Matter. Which is really cool, because it's three of us who come from very different sides of the industry, and we're all discussing and demonstrating through activities the importance of incorporating improvisation and fun in the work. There's someone who teaches this all the time, there's someone who is coming from primarily the nonprofit realm, and then there's me, who is coming at it from a theatrical point of view, and how to incorporate the ideas of theater into the office space. So, I'm very excited about this one, because I normally teach solo sessions. I had submitted this as a solo session and they said, "hey, we've got some other folks from with differing backgrounds, can we put you all together?" We've been planning this for several months now, and it's all going to come together, and I'm very excited about that. 

Then that evening there is another event. So, a lot of the larger vendors will hold mixers for their clients so they could all, again, get to see them in person. Because as Philip mentioned, no matter who you do business with, there's probably a representative at this Expo. So, Monday night I have... Well, actually, to be completely honest, every night I have some sort of gathering planned, and a couple lunch meetings as. So, it's utilized as a great opportunity to sort of get everybody together. 

Then on Tuesday the 15th, I'm teaching another seminar, this is a solo seminar, and it's called the Right Boo For You. It's all about how to develop a Halloween event that matches your budget and your brand. This year there was a lot of requests from various organizations, especially to expand in the Halloween market, which is interesting to me, because this is something that has been explored for years and years and years, but it's come back again this year as something that was of great interest. So, I do know that there are two separate seminars, Matt Marbury is teaching one of them and I'm teaching the other. His is more about haunting unique locations, and mine is more about kind of finding the right approach, the right North Star. Sorry, I use my own terminology, but the right North Star for your event and how to build something around it. 

Then Wednesday, of course, Wednesday the 16th is the Brass Ring Awards, which is always exciting. As Philip mentioned, IAAPA has many tentacles that reach out into the world and the Brass Ring Awards are curated and adjudicated excellence awards based on submissions from parks literally around the world. One of the reasons I love to go to Brass Rings is because you can get a whole new perspective of what's happening in parks in places that you didn't even know had parks, because it's broken down by attendance, it's broken down by budget. So, there's a lot of different ways to look at that. I, of course, have to be at that because I'm also a judge for that particular part of the show, right?

Philip: And they have Halloween Christmas, which is my favorite part of the Brass Rings.

Scott: Yes, they do have Halloween and Christmas, that is true, and that's relatively new. They didn't use to have those. You could do some shows within your seasonal events, but there wasn't a category for overall seasonal events until two years ago? Two or three years ago, but those are always fun to see too. So, I'll be completely honest, one of the things I like to see in the Brass Ring awards is, I get excited to see the marketing. I get excited to see how different parks are advertising.

Philip: Ah yeah.

Scott: Some of the smaller organizations have some of the most clever marketing campaigns because they don't have a lot of... They don't get overly concerned about, "gosh we have to run this through 15 or 20 different filters." They run it through two or three, and sometimes are a little edgier, but really fun. Really, really fun, and it's something that I think the larger parks... I think it's an opportunity for the larger parks to learn from the smaller organizations, and for the smaller organizations to learn from the larger ones as well. So, those are super fun. Then, you know, various and sundry meetings.

Then on Thursday the 17th, that night is always my favorite night, which is the IAAPA Celebrates Night, and this, again, being held in Orlando. This is where IAAPA works with one of the larger parks in the area to do a catered evening that is just always a ton of fun.

Philip: Yeah, it's incredible. IAAPA Celebrates is incredible. It does tend to sell out right, but it's basically a private party in a theme park. Which is, again, if you are a theme park fan, that type of experience, to be able to be part of like a private party in a park where you get exclusive ride time for a new incredible attraction, and then you also get food, I mean they bring out food and they do like an all you can eat kind of like snack hors d'oeuvre kind of thing as you're walking through the area, and then you get exclusive ride time in in an area. So, it is great, and then plus you're bound to run into people in that. So, I mean, everybody I know is going. It's incredible. 

I also think the other thing about the IAAPA events like that, the value is always there. So, I think yes, it is $150 for members for IAAPA Celebrates, but you are getting access to the theme park, exclusive ride time, and food all included in that. So, they're generally pretty good deals, and then you also can hop a bus so you're not paying parking or any of that. So, you get transport included. It's like exclusive park time, food, and transport hold for $150 is pretty good.

Scott: I'll be honest, living in Florida I am not the one who is particularly motivated to run out to a park and do it like a regular guest. If I'm working, or I have the opportunity to call a friend and sneak in the back, I'm much more apt to do that. For me, I mean, I'll use last year as an example. Last year it was all about Star Wars at Disney, and the fact that I got to do both Smuggler's Run and Rise of the Resistance, I could do both of them twice in one evening, plus get fed, plus get drinks, it was well worth the price of admission for me. Because it also meant that I got to hang out with some of my friends, clients, and coworkers in an environment that wasn't at all business related, it was just let's go have a good time. I think that helps build those kinds of relationships as well. So, I'm excited for that this year, we'll see how that goes. 

What I also find really interesting about IAAPA is that business still continues, so it is very common to see people leaving the trade show floor, heading back to their hotel room, or heading off to some quiet place just to do a catch-up meeting. I know I'm going to be doing that throughout the week, doing a catch-up meeting with different clients. The nice thing about it is sometimes those catch-up meetings spark something that you go, "oh, I saw that on the trade show floor, let me go get pictures of that and I'll send it to you." I will say the only downside, this is the only downside for me in IAAPA Expo, is timing. It is always in November. I know this is true with Philip and I know this is true with me, when we are focused so much on fourth-quarter seasonal events like Halloween and Christmas events, this is the change over time. So, it makes it a little bit difficult, a little bit tricky to schedule things like rehearsals. I know that when I return from IAAPA Expo I hit the ground running in rehearsals for Christmas, and I just came from Indianapolis where we did rehearsals up there. So, I had to schedule them around the IAAPA time because, again, virtually no one is available during the actual festival, during the actual Expo.

Philip: Well, we are vending, and so that's a little bit different. Actually, both Gantom and Z-Tag are vending, and even though Z-Tag is a separate company, of course, Quan is still involved with both companies, so we do help out our Z-Tag brothers over there to make sure that their stuff is doing OK. So, that makes it a little bit different, because of load-in. The other thing too, is that in terms of attendance wise it's relatively small. 30, 000, even 40,000 people, is not a lot of people compared to say, a Comic Con or Anime Expo that will reach 100,000 at one time, like in the space. This is 40,000 over several days, but if you compare that though with the amount of physical space it takes up, it takes up a very large amount of physical space, I would argue almost more than any of those other fan conventions. That's because people bring enormous booths, they bring dark rides, they bring rides for you to test out, but that requires a lot of setup. So, generally set up can start three or four days before the convention actually opens. So, for us, for Gantom, we only have a 10 by 10, and for Z-Tag they have a 20 by 20, so it's a little bit more of a setup process for Z-Tag because they need to set up their 20 by 20. But for us, we're already set up, and so it's less stress. 

We do have a lot of other friends that, right now, this whole weekend, spent their entire weekend on the floor setting stuff up, programming stuff, getting demos ready, getting all those pieces in play, but for us that wasn't as much of an issue this year. So, generally, that starts Thursday, that's when it started this year, so the week before, so we have Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday kind of as a setup time. So, vendors will be setting up that entire time, and you can get your badges early, of course, whatnot, before the trade show opens. For us, we're having a staff meeting on Monday, because we're all in town, so we're not going to go for the education or any of that on Monday, we're going to go on Tuesday when the trade show floor opens. So, we'll have our staff running the booth Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. That's when the show floor is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, they'll be running the booth at that time. We just kind of tradeoff, we have tradeoffs. But, of course, I'm not going to be at the booth because of course not. Philip isn't at the booth.

Scott: Philip is off videotaping things, he's off getting interviews with people.

Philip: Yes, yeah, so that's the angle. Actually, the angle I take it is, we're getting content, I'm reporting on IAAPA, so that's the angle that I come at it at. Generally, the angle that I take with it is I look for seasonal entertainment, specifically Halloween, at IAAPA, and I know a lot of our listeners are do Halloween stuff, so it's a pretty big crossover, and there's a lot of Halloween at IAAPA. What I would say is, I know that the big Halloween show, of course, is Transworld's Halloween Attraction Show. But the very large vendors that sell to more than just Halloween, all of them are at IAAPA, so they're bringing their new products. Before they get to Transworld, their new products are always debuted IAAPA. 

So, for example, Froggy's Fog, I was already contacted by that team, they have a very new, no one else in the world does this type of product, that they are debuting at IAAPA and giving demos for that. That's when you can kind of really get a jump on those type of orders, because by the time they get to Transworld they've you know you've had several months already. So, the Transworld team is also here, they usually do a haunter mixer event as well here at IAAPA. If you are involved in the haunted attraction space, you will find a lot of others here at the show as well. In addition to vendors like Froggy's Fog, and Haunt Pay is here with their parent company Ticketleap, and you even have mask makers like CFX masks, and the VFX Creates folks. I mean, anybody that sells to anything that's not just a haunt. 

There's also Halloween education, not as much, but there's Halloween education. I also think it's just a good perspective as well for people that are in the Halloween space to see education that goes beyond that, like here, some of the HR specific classes, even if it's meant for a larger organization, it's still beneficial, I think, to have those takeaways. The education tours I think are also beneficial, they show you how OPs are done at parks because when you get your haunt and it scales up to a scream park, you know, you’re seeing how it's done at places like that, I think, is beneficial, it gives you that perspective. 

I will say, I get asked a lot too as a reporter, what the difference is or what the best show is to go to, et cetera, et cetera. I think it comes down, always, to your need, what you need as a person professionally. The differences, specifically between the Transworld show and the IAAPA Expo, would be, in my opinion, that, obviously, the Halloween show is geared more specifically to immersive than Halloween and Christmas, right? But you get the small vendors, like the boutique vendors, will go to the Transworld show and they will sell out. Those people that it's maybe just a few guys that run the shop and they make everything by hand here in the US, I mean stuff you can't get anywhere else, right? But that is in that capacity, those aren't at IAAPA generally. At IAAPA you get the people that are larger manufacturers, that have much larger supply chains, much larger capacity because they're trying to supply theme parks all over the world. So, I think that would be the difference. If you're looking for more than niche things, you're going to get them, but the larger stuff you can order fog right at IAAPA just fine, you can order all of your food and all those concessions and all that kind of stuff there just fine. But those boutique things, and then, of course, the boutique education.

Scott: Yeah, it's interesting to me because I think that, like I said, if you are involved in the attractions industry in any way, shape, or form, I think going to an IAAPA Expo will be beneficial to you, aside from any other shows. Philip's right, I mean Transworld and any of the other smaller shows, they focus on specific things, this is sort of across the board. However, sometimes when you view things across the board, like I've gone to IAAPA and found things that have nothing to do with Halloween or nothing to do with Christmas, that I'm like, "oh wouldn't it be cool if we use that to create XY or Z?" If you've never been to an IAAPA show, just to give you some idea, it is the entire Orlando Convention Center. It's huge, it's gigantic. You can be at one booth talking about insurance, you go to another booth to talk about ticketing, you go to another booth to taste the newest flavor of Dippin' Dots, Micro Melts, or whatever other brand makes those little, tiny pellets of ice cream, and then you can turn around and see an entire ride set up and operational all on the trade show floor. It's everything you could possibly imagine. Then as you're thinking, "I've seen everything I can possibly see," there's somebody showing you how to clean up and sweep your park with a new device. It's everything, it is all-encompassing, and it gives you a nice overall view of what is available to you.

Philip: Also, because of course, this is me, this is Philip, 480,000 square feet is the activated space of the IAAPA show. So, almost half a million square feet, just shy of half a million square feet.

Scott: Yeah, it's big, it's a big show. So, anyway, I hope you enjoyed our sort of, what we'll call a preview to the show, and kind of talking a little bit about what we're anticipating, what our schedules are because next week we will actually tell you what happened at the show. So, think of this as sort of one of a two-part series and we'll be reporting next week on all things that we experienced at IAAPA and the important things that you should know as our listeners. 

So, until next week, thank you so much for listening on behalf of Philip and myself, Scott Swenson. This is Green Tagged Theme Park In 30, and we will see you next week.



Scott SwensonProfile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.