IAAPA 2011: A World-Class Gathering of Peeps, Geeks, and Inflatables!
This year, I attended IAAPA (which took place this November in Orlando at the Convention Center) with my girlfriend and co-owner of Theme Park Adventure, Johanna Atilano. In the 17 years that I have been at the helm of Theme Park Adventure (themeparkadventure.com), I have never attended one of these trade shows in person; I’d either sent other people on behalf of TPA or simply ignored it. In a twist of fate however, I was sent as part of a creative delegation of representatives from the company I work for; not only did I finally get to see IAAPA, I got to see it free, hotel and all. Not too shabby!
One thing that I have always heard about IAAPA is that it gets pretty “carny” (if that’s offensive, perhaps “Carny-American”?) since the trade show is about every aspect of the industry – from park and attraction development to the annoying glow crap found at fairs (and over-priced merch carts at Disney). So with that in mind, I went expecting to find a lot of fair-type of items, which we did in abundance. But in all honesty, it wasn’t that bad. After all, cheap souvenirs and glowing stuff do have their place in this crazy business.
What killed me were the amount of inflatables on display! Dear God! If I had to guess, I would say probably 1/3 of the entire convention space for IAAPA was taken up by massive bounce/slide inflatable structures. I get that things like that are hard to sell from a book or website – people want to see what they’re spending thousands of dollars on; I totally understand. But seriously – how many different ones do these vendors need to inflate? It was past the point of being ridiculous. I guess the good news (unless you’re an inflatable vendor – if so… switch professions – now) for the rest of us, is that inflatables-related lawsuits and safety concerns are driving the insurance rates on these mammoth play structures through the roof, thus, fewer and fewer people are actually buying them. Perhaps by IAAPA 2016, the biggest inflatable on the floor will be a balloon vendor. Here’s hoping!
While in carny mode, I’d be remiss not to mention all of the free snacks and horrible junk food in abundance on the floor. Everything from Dippin’ Dots (aren’t they out of business?) to hot pretzels with spicy mustard – you name it, it’s available for free as samples to trade show attendees. The amusing part was watching these vendors suddenly serve up a new batch of whatever it was they were there representing; the stampede of people trying to get free junk food was staggering. You’d think they were handing out free $20 bills! People are absolutely amazing that way. Now, while I didn’t trample anyone in the process, I will admit that we sampled some of the fair food, but not to excess; even I start feeling yucky after a bit of crap food, free or not!
There is an outdoor section of IAAPA, which we have heard is where manufacturers actually set up full-sized flat rides, etc. So, into the 80+ degree weather we went (Orlando is apparently exempt from seasons besides “Hot” and “Hotter Than Hell”) in search of the next big thing. Guess what we found? MORE INFLATABLES! Man, oh man. We did find something fairly nifty, although not ground-breaking, by any stretch. We found and rode a two-person zip line seat, which was fun and fairly horrifying as it pulled us backward to approximately 50 feet above the ground or so.
The most bizarre booth at IAAPA had to belong to an Asian group selling a robotic female head. It was controlled by an iPad, and made facial expressions such as “Surprise” or “Disgust”. Some of the expressions were real enough to be fairly creepy. The absolutely jaw-dropping moment when she started “flirting” by wincing with one eye closed – it looked like someone had clocked her. But then… a moist-looking little pink tongue came sticking out of her open mouth and stayed there for a few seconds. Every time this happened, the gathered crowd would gasp and then explode in really awkward laughter. I mean, seriously. What the hell are these developers thinking? That is an image that I won’t be able to shake for a long time! Definitely the twisted highlight of IAPPA for us!
There are honest-to-goodness good displays there in abundance as well, from scented fog juice for fog machines to full-blown roller coaster ride vehicles. There was a full-scale ropes course set up (Johanna wouldn’t allow me to do it, saying that I would slip and break myself; she was probably right), as well as many really neat, innovative technologies, such as water curtains that pass through nozzles that operate much like inkjet printers, allowing for designs, words and patterns to be created by falling water. We also enjoyed many new video game experiences that were all set to “Free Play” mode.
What was really interesting to me was the presence that haunted attraction designers and prop vendors had on the IAAPA floor! There was even a full-blown haunted shooting gallery set into a crypt that we thought was really neat. I guess it shouldn’t have been that surprising, since Halloween/haunted attractions are the second largest holiday money-maker next to Christmas in America (and catching on nicely around the globe).
Our good friends from Garner Holt Productions were on hand with many of their wonderful Animatronics – which were of course, eons better than anything else in the same category on the floor – even the Asian sex doll head thing! Always great bumping into the GHP crew; they’re awesome and we love ’em!
All in all, IAAPA was pretty much as I expected it would be. We spent a total of probably 10 hours on the trade show floor over two days. That was more than enough for us. I got out of it what I needed to; added knowledge of different gadgets and gizmos out there, as well as additional understanding of what IAAPA is and just how big it is. It really is enormous, and I am grateful that I was finally able to attend, all joking aside. As someone who has written about, loved and now works in the themed entertainment industry, IAAPA was definitely a very interesting experience, and I hope to return again!
All images courtesy of Rick West