Walking the Orange County Convention Center floor, you could sense something different about the 2021 version of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions trade show last week.
Empty booth spaces.
More floor space designated as general dining or lounge areas than usual.
And the amusement park ride area of the floor had fewer people waiting in line than previous years.
However, the ability to do business in person helped alleviate any frustration and angst built up over a pandemic-ravaged year.
“It’s a big deal,” said Brandon Naids, CEO of Talon Simulations, which had two racing simulators set up for visitors to try out. “This is an industry in which people buy products only after they try them. It’s hard to gauge your interest in a product if you can’t experience it yourself.”
IAAPA returned to the convention center after an historic one-year pause brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2021 show featured 870 businesses filling 375,000 square feet of expo space.
Over a four-day period, it would see more than 28,000 registered attendees walk the floor, seeking deals and potential partnerships.
The 2021 turnout “is a testament to the resilience and continued growth and strength of the global attractions industry,” said Hal McEvoy, president and CEO of IAAPA in a news release following the show.
“It’s been a phenomenal week, bringing together the innovators who are moving our industry forward and building the future of attractions.”
The show had a decidedly tech-centric look to it.
Visitors tried out VR experiences that took them to a racetrack, sliding on a water slide, tossing some footballs as a quarterback or into a virtual laser tag arena.
A large area included dozens of companies showing off arcade games both in production and already available to play.
A Nashville, Tenn., company’s impressive animatronic – that is, mechanical representation of a human – drew large crowds consistently the whole week.
It was all part of a marketplace that often paired sellers with buyers, in person.
“It has been a constant flow of people,” said Steve Andersen, vice president of operations for Animax, a company that has worked with the large players like Disney, SeaWorld and Nintendo.
They debuted a new animatronic that will allow it to potentially enter a new price point.
“There have been a lot of gawkers,” Andersen said. “A lot of kids, which is why we are in this business to begin with.”
Each year, with just last year as an exception, the pulse of the theme park industry rolls through Orlando.
Some of the biggest theme park companies – yes, those companies – make news and updates at IAAPA.
Merlin Entertainment announced its forthcoming Peppe Pig Theme Park in Winter Haven would be a certified autism center.
Meanwhile, Disney executive Josh D’Amaro served as a keynote speaker on Day 1 of the show.
The numbers for the 2021 version of IAAPA were down about 30 percent from 2019.
That year, there were 42,200 attendees and 1,146 exhibitors.
However, the quality of conversations seemed to have risen this year, said Chris Gray, founder of Orlando-based Skyline Attractions.
After all, he said, the business conversations included a year of pent-up interest in getting as close to normal as possible.
“It feels like it’s been an eternity but, at the same time, it’s like you have just picked up where you left off,” said Chris Gray, founder of Orlando-based Skyline Attractions. “I don’t think any of us expected this show to be what it has been.”