Friday, October 31, 2008

Ode to Joy: The State of the European Attractions Industry

What's this? Even more info from EAS? This is not a trick, it's pure treat. The annual "Ode to Joy" seminar is a highlight of any EAS, and this year's version gave volumes of great information, which I will attempt to distill into a few bites below. David Camp of ERA hosted this year's session, which featured Richard Golding, CEO of Parques Reunidos, and Roland Mack, managing director of Europa-Park. Here's some of what was discussed:

How was your 2008?
Continuing a trend that I've been so pleased to hear from many corners of the industry, both Golding and Mack said their organizations had good years, despite worldwide economic turmoil. Mack said Europa-Park overcame a dreary Easter holiday with the park's best-ever July/August. Golding said Reunidos properties in the U.S. were up 25 percent, and Europe was up like-for-like 16 percent.

What about 2009?
Mack probably summed it up best: "We have quite strange times at the moment. … It's an unsure situation." He was talking specifically of Germany's political situation, but could have been speaking for everybody, I'm guessing. He returned to the theme of 2008, though, saying he feels Europa-Park—and the industry at large—handles downturns in the economy because people still make time for short-break vacations. "I'm optimistic," Mack said. "You can't put your head in the sand. There's always opportunity."

What's your view on gate price vs. attendance?

"Our driver is maximization of cash flow," Golding said. "It's a wrong kind of reaction to lower prices." He said, instead, parks need to make the case for why their experiences are worth the money being asked at the gate. Mack said Europa-Park sets what he feels is a fair gate price, so he doesn't offer discounts.

How do your companies utilize the Internet?
Golding and Mack said the Internet is only just now becoming more important in Europe among potential guests, so they use online marketing in moderation. They both said capturing guests' e-mail addresses is crucial so their facilities can use specially targeted marketing materials. Golding said he offers online discounts on items such as food, but not the gate.

What are your thoughts on how park developments in the Middle East will affect the industry in Europe?
Golding said the industry will be exposed to more people than ever before and will create new park fans, which is good for everyone. "I think it will add, rather than subtract" from the European business, he said.

Mack—again, "always optimistic"—agreed. He feels the spotlight on the Middle East will help draw attention to the entire industry: "If you have good parks and do good business, everybody's happy."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More from Nov/Dec FUNWORLD: Animatronics


In the Nov/Dec issue of FUNWORLD, News Editor Keith Miller wrote an intriguing story about the present and future of animatronics (click here to read the story in our awesome new digital edition format—more on that soon!). Keith had more good quotes than he could fit in his story, however, so he's sharing what didn't make the magazine below:

"You're going to see more of a merger between animatroincs and video, where video can fill in where animatronics can’t do something. You’ll definitely see better motion animatronics, and the control systems will probably be much better. You’re really going to see something great with interactivity. You’re going to see interactivity that actually removes the human from the equation, in which the interactive animatronic is completely autonomous and can converse with [guests] in real time!"

"CGI and animatronics complement each other. Unless you spend a lot of money on it, CGI looks kinda fake. The theme park industry has been adopting video technologies for the things we can’t do, and that's what you'll see for the near [term.]"
—Mark McDonough, president, Creative Visions, St. Louis, Missouri

"CGI hasn't eliminated the need for animatronics in movies yet. There may come a day when it will, but I don’t think they’ll ever go away because sometimes it's a lot cheaper to make the real thing rather than have CGI do every frame, especially when there’s a live actor interacting with it."
—Ed Edmunds, president, Distortions Unlimited, Greely, Colorado

"The interactivity, the autonomy—those are the things that are going to be the big push. Animatronics allow you to sit with a historical figure and suspend disbelief. And the other thing is you can create completely imaginary things with animatronics—dragons that fly around the room, 12-foot-tall bugs. You’ll see an increase in creativity. We'll create animatronic buildings—we can have a building that actually changes as you walk through it."
—Rodney Heiligmann, president, LifeFormations, Bowling Green, Ohio

"I think there are still many applications that have not been explored—the museum field, for one. In the theme park industry, we’re seeing the significant branded parks being developed in other countries. We’re still seeing [animatronics] develop. We see today the return of the dark ride, and the themed animated attraction still has a tremendous opportunity for today’s park. It’s unique to the theme park industry, and it’s historically significant."
—John Wood, chairman/CEO, Sally Corporation, Jacksonville, Florida

Thursday, October 23, 2008

One Year Already?

Today marks In the Queue's one-year anniversary, so I just wanted to thank all of our readers for checking in with us so often. We've seen more and more people coming to this space as the weeks and months go by, and we hope the information you've found here has been timely, helpful, informative, and maybe even entertaining.

We didn't really know what to expect this time a year ago when we fired up this blog, but I couldn't have imagined the first year being any better. My colleagues and I are certainly committed to improving the site any way we can, so if you have suggestions, please drop us a comment or e-mail me. And we're always looking for guest bloggers, so let us know if you're interested in that, too.

Again, thanks for reading. We hope you stay with us into 2009—and tell your friends!

Oh, and one last thing as we plunge into Year Two: Remember, all posts here are written by individuals, and don't necessarily reflect the views of the association at large.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Institute for Media Relations

Recently I conducted an e-mail interview with Susie Storey, director of communications at Give Kids The World (GKTW) about IAAPA’s Institute for Media Relations, which is taught by attractions industry veteran Courtney Simmons. Susie attended last year’s program and has already signed up to attend again in 2008.

Here’s a little excerpt from our digital conversation:

Heidi: Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you come to GKTW? What do you for the Village?
Susie: I am the director of communications for GKTW. I have been in this role for a little more than a year and love it. I oversee all areas of our branding and communications efforts, including the gktw.org website, newsletter production, collateral production, and special events. Media relations is an important aspect of my role, as well.

I have been involved with GKTW since 1993, when I first came to the Village as a volunteer. I also worked here for two years fresh out of college, and have remained a part of the Village no matter where my career in the amusement industry took me. In my various roles, I was often my park’s contact for GKTW families with the World Passport for Kids program, providing in-kind donations for the gift-giving program and as a volunteer. My husband and I even got engaged here after a night of volunteering. Returning to GKTW in this professional capacity last year was a career dream come true.

Heidi: Did you learn anything in particular at last year’s Institute for Media Relations that changed the way you, or your colleagues, deal with the media?
Susie: I think a key lesson for me was to remember that even if the message I have to deliver is not something that I want to share, it is still OK to be “me.” That may sound simple, but it clicked. When we were doing a mock interview with Courtney for a “puff” fun story, she challenged each member of the class with our answers, asking, “Do you really talk that way?” and, “Is that what you say, or is that how you have heard your boss answer that question?”

The point was, if you are not comfortable with your delivery of simple, positive messages, your job is only harder—and your delivery of your messages much weaker—in a crisis situation. We all have talking points that we have to stick to, but if we also remain true to our personal style, then the delivery of our message will truly be genuine, honest, and transparent. We’ll feel more comfortable in the situation and come across as such to reporters, leaving us less vulnerable to the tough questions.

I have kept this in mind with various interviews I have participated in. I have a leader who is a master at media interviews, and while I strive to be as good as she is, I must also remember that I am not her, so mimicking her word choice or her style makes me sound less genuine. I can tell the GKTW story in my personal way that reflects who I am and still deliver the special message that we have—in good times and in bad.

Heidi: Who would you recommend attend the 2008 Institute?
Susie: I would recommend Courtney’s class not only to the media/public relations managers of various parks and attractions, but also senior members of leadership who may take part in an interview. I have been working in public relations/marketing for more than 10 years and know I can always benefit from media and crisis training. For leaders in any industry who may only speak to the media once or twice a year—or only in times of crisis—Courtney’s class is truly that much more important. She helps attendees think about an interview in its entirety—message delivery, context, personal style, and reputation management, as well as reminding you that you are in charge of the interview, not the reporter.

I believe sometimes senior members of management think speaking to the media is “easy” and therefore they do not need training. The reality is, it truly is a skill that must be practiced and perfected. Courtney has a teaching style that speaks to professionals who are new their roles as well as seasoned professionals who may need a “refresher.” She is the right speaker for this program during the Expo, and will have members of my team taking her program that week!

About the Institute for Media Relations: Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced pro, the strategies, secrets, and techniques you’ll learn in this course will help you drive your business and safeguard your image. Twenty-year industry media veteran Courtney Simmons will outline ways to work with the press to generate positive coverage for your attraction and understand the secrets for effectively managing bad news coverage during a crisis.

P.S.—A Special Offer for
IAAPA Institutes taking place at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008. Companies paying for three registrations for any IAAPA one-day Institute will receive a fourth Institute registration for free! Choose from:

·
Institute for Marketing
·
Institute for Media Relations
· Institute for Safety
· Institute for Operations

Whether you attend all four Institutes or send a team to one, this opportunity will help attendees get the most out of the Expo education experience. For more information or to take advantage of this offer, contact
training@IAAPA.org.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nov/Dec FUNWORLD: Special Double Issue!


Soon you should receive the special year-end double issue of FUNWORLD. I wrote this year's cover story, which focuses on the three top executives at design firm Jack Rouse Associates. I'm really happy with how the article turned out; Jack Rouse, Keith James, and Amy Merrell are rarely in the same place at the same time, so the extended conversational Q&A documents one of the few times these industry experts are in the same room together and talking about the business they all love. I particularly enjoyed hearing their thoughts on the attractions industry in China, India, and the Middle East.

At 172 pages, of course there's tons more in this issue than just my interview—more than enough to keep you occupied on that plane ride to Orlando for IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008. We have stories on animatronics, secret shopping at parks, the European industry, farm-based attractions, waterslide maintenance, and much, much more.

But before we move on completely to November, I have one more bit of info to share from our October issue. Contributing Editor Mike Bederka sent me this extra mini-Q&A from his interview with Jerry Merola, chief financial officer of Amusement Entertainment Management LLC in New Jersey, regarding FEC redesign:

FW: What are the biggest mistakes people make when redesigning their FECs? JM: Not creating an appropriate match of components and attractions within a facility. It creates a disjoined facility by selecting attractions not in harmony with one another—mixing family attractions with teen or young adult, for example. Or adding go-karts to a children’s facility; if the tracks are too aggressive, you end up with a more teen, young-adult crowd not mixing with your younger, family crowd.

FW: Are a lot of FEC owners scared to take the plunge and redesign? JM: Most people are comfortable with the thought that they have to upgrade the venue. The challenge, the fear is: Will I get these dollars back? Will it result in more dollars on the bottom line?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

RFID Questions with Randy Josselyn of Disneyland Resort

As the industry continues to find ways to serve its customers better every year, a common denominator is technology. One of the hot buttons over the past several years has been RF or RFID (radio frequency) technology, which can be applied to a variety of operational functions in the attractions industry, including point of sale, ticketing, and more.

Randy Josselyn of Disneyland Resort describes how the technology is being used, what it does, and how it works in the attractions industry.

FUNWORLD: What are some of the main RFID applications you see most frequently at parks?
Randy Josselyn: For the most part, RFID is being applied as a cashless spending module, allowing guests the convenience of stowing away their personal affects. This is especially true in the waterpark environment, where valuables and wallets are stowed away in lockers.

RFID is also being utilized for ticketless access control. As more and more facilities begin installing “smart” turnstiles, we are seeing an increase of ticketless alternatives. Facial recognition, biometric scans, and RFID are just a few of the popular alternatives to traditional bar-coded tickets. Lockers, vending machines, photo stations, and self-service kiosks can all be configured to accept RFID devices.

The versatility of RFID allows the guest experience to be significantly enhanced, providing an all-in-one solution. The cashless payment solution can be linked to the ticketless RFID device, along with hotel room access, lockers, guest demographics, and even a guest’s personal preferences.

RFID is also being employed at many locations for guest tracking and child locating. Using an external interface, parents, children, and groups can locate the members of their party via kiosks or handheld devices.

FW: There’s a feeling this is an expensive thing to bring into the park. Is that true?
RJ: RFID readers and RFID tags are expensive, but they have seen significant price drops in the past five years. As credit card companies adopt more and more RFID functionality, more RFID enabled terminals have appeared on the market. Reusable RFID wristbands have become more prevalent as well as the less expensive one-time-use RFID wristbands. RFID tags can also be installed into wristwatches, merchandise, and ID cards.

FW: Are there ways to make it more affordable, such as working with a vendor who does a revenue share but maintains the equipment and technology?
RJ: Many vendors are offering revenue share solutions.

FW: What is the most popular mode of RF?
RJ: RF surrounds us on a daily basis. Nearly every department store uses RF devices for inventory tracking and product security. These tags can be found on product boxes, apparel tags, or even in the products themselves. Companies rely on RFID for access control and security on property while toll roads employ the technology for cashless payment at toll booths. At amusement parks, although still relatively new (five or six years), RFID seems to be utilize mainly for access control and cashless payments.

FW: Why is it efficient for parks?

RJ: RFID could allow facilities to reduce labor with self-service RFID access control, while increasing revenues by encouraging quick purchasing without the need of a wallet. As more and more guests migrate to non-cash electronic payments, management can see significant decreases in the costs related to cash management (hourly labor during cashout procedures, change orders, etc.). This comes at a price as most cashless spending scenarios are linked to credit cards which incur a transaction fee.

FW: Why do guests like it?

RJ: Besides being new and exciting, the ability to link all of your purchases to your hotel room or to a single folio allows for less time spent gathering your money to make purchases and more time enjoying your family. Guests have also enjoyed the peace of mind experienced by utilizing RFID guest tracking at amusement parks. Personally, I am looking forward to the ability to have photos of my family taken while I am enjoying my day and associated to my RFID account—that technology is just starting to reveal itself at a handful of amusement parks worldwide.

FW: When parks implement a new technology, how can they curtail any confusion guests might have about how to use it, what it does, and the cost to them?
RJ: Educating guests on any new technology can be difficult, and RFID is no exception. Many guests experience anxiety over what information is actually contained on the RFID device, and they worry about potential security risks associated with using the RF device at your facility. Allowing guests the option to not use the RFID device or to provide an alternative is always a good idea. Likewise, incentivizing the RFID utilization can promote the use of the RFID device and remove some of the barriers associated with trying something new.

Most facilities incorporate instructional videos detailing how their experience can be enhanced by opting for the RFID. These videos are commonplace in the admission queues and registration areas.

Don't forget the RFID vendor floor tour at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008, Thursday, Nov. 20, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More from October FUNWORLD …

For our October issue, I was able to talk with the co-founders of LaffintheDark.com, a dark ride enthusiast web site which features articles and a ride directory. George Lacross and Bill Luca both have a true passion for the rides, and it comes through in their immense historical knowledge and excitement. (“Laff, Cackle, and Scream,” Quick Hits Oct. 28, p6). Here is an extended interview with LaCross and Luca.

FUNWORLD: What draws you to dark rides and fun houses?

Bill: The interest for me is rooted in my childhood, riding the "Treasure Island" dark ride at Revere Beach, Massachusetts, when I was around 6 years old. I like all types of rides, but the idea of being plunged into a dark and mysterious world and subjected to a sequential assault on the senses really amps up the excitement level beyond simply being shaken, rattled and rolled.

On an open ride, you know where you're going. In a dark ride, you don't know what it plans to do to you. Fun houses—especially the old ones—were furnished with devices to test your composure, agility, dignity, and sense of humor in the most fiendish ways. I was overwhelmed by the creativity that went into these rides.

Even as a youngster, I wasn't really scared. I was too fixated on how the tricks were done—how the Laughing Lady would keep cackling at everyone before her. George and I spent decades researching these rides individually before our chance meeting, which eventually led to Laff In The Dark.

FW: What kind of memories do these attractions evoke from your childhood, and have you always loved these attractions more than others?

George: I rode my first dark ride at age 3 in mid-August 1957 at the former Crescent Park in East Providence, Rhode Island. The park was about four miles down the street from my childhood home. The dark ride was a Pretzel, installed in the park in 1935. By 1957, when I first spotted it, it had been renamed “Laff In The Dark” and it had “laughing” animal busts on the facade as well as clown illustrations in the loading platform area. It really caught my eye and I begged my grandparents to ride it. They tried to talk me out of it but they eventually gave in and rode with me. The ride featured a combination of original Pretzel stunts and some purchased from the former Animated Display Creators in the early 1950s. The stunts weren't frightening but when each one lit up in total darkness, I have to admit, I was startled.

I loved the experience and from that day on I was hooked on dark rides. I developed this thirst for knowledge to know how they operate. I must have ridden “Laff In The Dark” about 50 times before it closed after the 1963 season. The reason I love dark rides is that I admire the creativity that goes into installing them—the timing, the lights, the sound effects, the placement of stunts … the list goes on and on. It's a multifaceted challenge for a designer and it involves thinking way out of the box.

FW: What are some of the unique features you have seen in dark rides that made a specific attraction really stand out?

Bill: I guess the appeal would be in the design creativity and its purpose of manipulating your senses. I love the surreal painting, glowing colors, and sculptural fabrication, inside and out. These rides had fa├žades that took visual ballyhoo to the nth degree. Among amusement rides, it was unique that dark rides were built by artists who created bizarre and sinister environments.

Comedy was also an element, even if the line between the two was quite fine. It's not just about fright; we always try to keep aware of the “laff” in the dark. When I began working in professional design as an adult, exploring the visual concepts of the rides that affected me as a child became fascinating on a whole new level.

FW: Do you have a favorite theme or feature for dark rides?

George: Bill and I are on the same page with this one. The best dark ride is one with no theme—a dark ride with an eclectic succession of stunts with no apparent storyline. You ride from a torture chamber to jungle scene, then you're in total darkness and a clown head lights up and laughs at you. There's no comfort zone for you, the rider, in that situation because you never know what's coming next.
However, if we had to pick a theme for a dark ride, we'd select a pirate theme. There's lots you can do with it—pirates, sharks, storms, and mythical sea creatures, among other images. The late designer Bill Tracy did that with his “Pirates Cove” walkthroughs at Trimpers Rides in Ocean City, Maryland, and at Waldameer Park in Erie, Pennsylvania. Tracy also used the same elements in his former “Bucket of Blood” dark ride at Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

FW: What does the Laff In The Dark community share besides a love of dark rides?

Bill: Although we're not a membership-based organization, we're constantly in touch with an ever-widening circle of fans (and owners) of dark rides from all over the world. Since we focus on the history and nostalgia of the earlier pioneering rides, hardly a week goes by that we don't hear from someone who's always loved dark rides and is overjoyed to discover our site. As it was with George and me, people seem to want to reconnect with their childhood experiences, and our articles allow them to do that.

FW: Anything you want readers to know about LaffintheDark.com?

Bill: We've recently branched into video and have just released a DVD featuring a behind-the-scenes tour of the Haunted House ride at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. It's been well received and can be purchased on our web site.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Inside the Institute for Emerging Leaders

My colleague Heidi Aulakh, manager of membership marketing here at IAAPA, asked me to post this entry featuring a personal perspective on the association's Institute for Emerging Leaders.

At IAAPA Attractions Expo 2007 we launched a new program for the future leaders of the attractions industry: the Institute for Emerging Leaders. This educational program is geared specifically for the mid-level “high flyers” of the industry—middle managers or supervisors looking to move up in their organization and further develop their careers. Think driven, motivated, hard-working individuals who are always looking to learn more, do more, and are dedicated to their work and the industry.

The 2007 class included people from Hersheypark, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, and Hopi Hari. In preparing to do the marketing for the program, I corresponded with one of last year’s participants, Mark Rees, park services manager at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Here’s what he had to say about the program:

Heidi: Tell me a little bit about yourself … what do you do as park services manager at Pleasure Beach?
Mark: The Park Services Department is responsible for a lot of operational activities such as cleanliness, security, first aid, car parking, etc. Also, whilst I am not directly in charge of ride operations, I do cover that role when the rides manager is off. I started working for the Pleasure Beach whilst I was still at college, and I am still here 14 years later! In that time I have done just about every operational task that there is to do.

Heidi: What made you decide to go to the Institute for Emerging Leaders last year? What did you learn?
Mark: My director suggested the program to me when I took on my current role last August, and he showed the program to me. What interested me most was the fact that the program identified and covered all of the key disciplines involved in running a successful amusement park, from operations to finance to marketing, plus it tied in neatly with the Expo that was running at the same time. Of course the fact that it meant me going to Orlando—and away from the British weather—played its part!

The program was structured in such a way that we covered each of the key areas first, then finished things off with a case study, involving the Expo, which really brought everything together. I think the greatest lesson I learned was to appreciate each of the parts that contribute to the whole—we were all specialists in one discipline or another, and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your discipline is the most important. The program showed me how everything fits together. Since then I have tried to consider the needs of the company rather than just the needs of my department.

Heidi: What advice do you have for those considering attending this year?
Mark: I would advise the 2008 attendees to go into the program with an open mind, try to see the value the different disciplines bring to the business, and, most importantly of all, do as much networking as humanly possible! After all, this generation of emerging leaders may well be the next generation of leaders.


The Institute takes place during IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008, Sunday-Tuesday, Nov. 16-18, which allows those involved the best opportunity to participate in the program and see the industry in action.

If you want more information, feel free to send an e-mail to our education manager, a high-flyer herself, Linda Gerson at lgerson@IAAPA.org.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Three Questions with Ken Whiting of Whiting's Foods

As a follow-up to our first three-question interview with John Lawn of Hersheypark and the IAAPA Food and Beverage Committee, FUNWORLD caught up with another member of the F&B committee, Ken Whiting, who runs Whiting's Foods through the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. He is also founder of WAVES for Success, which provides expert advice on how to recruit, train, and manage a teenage work force.

Whiting shares his perspective on how to work through a difficult economy while still aiming to serve customers in the best way possible. We hope this interview will help guide your strategy as you plan your meetings and show floor visits at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008.

FUNWORLD: How have the price increases of food and raw materials affected your business as a whole?
Ken Whiting: Combined with an overall softening in spending, increased cost of goods will definitely have a negative impact on year-end profit.

FW: What types of strategies are you implementing to combat the effects?
KW: These types of occurrences make us better operators. When certain areas are negatively impacted (i.e. cost of goods, sales volume), we put an increased priority on other areas like training, speed of service, scheduling, open/close times, signage, menu item preparation, presentation, and quality ... and the effectiveness of our supervisors. These all have opportunities to improve overall efficiency, sales, and profit.

In addition, we already have many value-added offers available. Coupons with strong discounts are available to season passholders and at our parking lots. We are seeing a large increase on redemption of these, driving sales that otherwise may not occur.

FW: What are some tips you can share on working with vendors during these more difficult times?
KW: The first thing is to simply make sure you are having a conversation with your vendors regarding pricing and product opportunities. They may have have suggestions on different ingredients or recipes to use that decrease cost or increase yield. Vendors work with many type of food establishments and suppliers, so their combined experience can generate many new ideas to consider. As one example, where it has been advantageous, we have bought certain items in larger volumes at lower prices, or to lock in a price.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Photos from Oktoberfest

Sorry it's taken me a little longer than expected to start posting more stuff from last week's EAS 2008-Munich, but the past three days I've been consumed with getting the Nov/Dec issue of FUNWORLD to the printer. We just sent it off literally minutes ago, so now I can breathe a little easier and return to fond and fun memories from last week.

To start off, here are a few shots of the massive tents that line the midway at Oktoberfest. Hard as it might be to believe, these structures the size of warehouses actually are not permanent:


Here's a shot I'm particularly proud of. Several tents had towers out front as landmarks/identifiers. Ours is the one further away, with the stein on top:


And here's a look inside the chaos that is a beer tent at Oktoberfest:


Up next is a bunch of shots from the HUGE Oktoberfest midway. I took a couple pictures of the Ferris wheel, plus a five-loop coaster and a cool dark ride/runaway mine train:


OK, the next two I mentioned last week—the odd gnome railroad and the kids' pony rides:


So there you go. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then even a thousand pictures wouldn't fully describe what it's like to be at Oktoberfest. Hopefully these at least gave you a better idea.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

EAS 2008-Munich is officially over. I just exited the show floor a little while ago, leaving an IAAPA booth stripped to the bare bones and wading my way through other exhibits in various states of deconstruction, saying goodbye to a few last folks.

I spent much of today out on the show floor talking to exhibitors and was quite pleased that several people told me they had a good show:

“People-wise, it was a very good show—building up the network. No actual contracts were signed, but a lot of people said, ‘Wait until November.’ In general, I think it was a really good show leading up to IAAPA [Attractions Expo 2008], negotiating contracts, bringing them to a point that we can sign in November. We really like the time of year for the show. We can go back home, do our homework, and hopefully take good contracts to {Attractions Expo].”
—Michael Mack, Mack Rides

“This is the first time here [in Europe], and we made very valuable and promising contacts. Of course next year I can say whether it was a success or not, but for the moment, from southern and western Europe, we made some really good contacts there. A lot of opportunities.”
—Cornelis Bonnet, Texas Digital

“The show has been very good, especially for the new ‘Dracula’ dark ride concept we developed with ABC Rides. It was highly appreciated, and we had some very good negotiations on this. Park owners realize more and more theming and storytelling is essential. It’s also driven by the ability to buy complete packs—not just the ride and then the theming, but a complete package.”
—Christian Angenvoort, Theming and Animatronics Industries

“Great! We had tremendous success at the show. We can’t complain—very happy about it.”
—Matthias Clostermann, Clostermann Design

Those are just a few of the people I talked with this afternoon. The best news, I think, is there were several more exhibitors I wanted to meet with but didn’t get a chance to because every time I went by their booths, they were already sitting down in heavy discussions with what I’m assuming are potential clients. And, one last thing: we already have a slew of contracts signed for next year’s show in Amsterdam. My sales team colleagues were thrilled with how many people stopped by the IAAPA booth to reserve their space for 2009 before 2008 had even run its course.

So, after six long, exhausting days, 2008 IAAPA Summer Meeting and EAS 2008-Munich are over. But that doesn’t mean I’m finished. My notebook and camera are still filled with items I want to pass on, so be sure to check back next week to find out what other great stuff you missed in Munich.

Until then, thanks for following along with me this week …

Oktoberfest

Imagine thousands of people crammed under a hot, smoky tent the size of a large three-story building, standing (and dancing) on tables, drinking large amounts of beer out of the biggest steins you've ever seen, all the while singing at the top of their lungs along to a live band playing rock and roll at maximum volume (my particular favorite was the group chant to The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army") as dozens (hundreds?) more waiters and waitresses dressed in traditional German garb race through the narrow alleyways between the tables with trays full of food and drink. Now keep that image in your head for several hours.

That, as best I can describe, is what it's like inside a beer tent at Oktoberfest. It truly is unlike anything i've ever seen before, and if drinking and partying with friends is your idea of a good time, then I can definitely see why millions of people travel to Munich each fall to participate.

Contrary to its reputation, though, there's a lot more going on at Oktoberfest than just drinking beer. Actually, the majority of space at the event is dedicated to the biggest and best carnival I've ever seen (I'm saying that a lot, aren't I?). It was like an actual amusement park had been set up in Munich, a throwback to a bygone era in the industry with multiple little haunted houses, bumper car arenas, swings, Ferris wheels, and midway games as far as the eye could see. There were actually two roller coasters, and these weren't any small things. Both looked to top out at about 75 feet, if I had to guess, and one featured five loops. They looked like anything but portable attractions, that's for sure.

And there were certainly some unusual things on the midway, too: carousels where instead of riding horses you sat at tables and drank beer; a supersized electric train set that ran its course through a gnome village; a small tent where kids could take pony rides around in a circle.

I hit the midway with a couple colleagues to try out a few attractions and had a fabulous time. We went through a psychedelic fun house (complete with awesome 3-D effects), rode a wild mouse ride, and traveled through a not-so-scary haunted house. The best, though, was the flea circus: We all thought it was just gonna be a mechanical contraption made to look like "fleas" were doing all sorts of activities. Wow, we were so wrong. We went through a curtain to find ourselves in the smallest "theater" I've ever been in, about 10 of us huddled around a 2-foot-by-2-foot stage. The "ringmaster" comes out and passes around a chess piece with a wire on it and a magnifying glass; yep, on the chess piece, that's a real flea. So over the next few minutes he has a series of barely-visible fleas do the following tricks: kick teeny-tiny soccer balls into a goal; run a chariot race; and perform a ballet. Real. Live. Fleas. doing all this stuff. It was surreal.

Matter of fact, that's probably the best way to describe Oktoberfest. I don't know what it's like for people from other parts of the world, but for this American it was like stepping 20 years back in time. People are dressed in costumes. Your senses are bombarded with smells and sights at all times. And everyone seems to be in a good mood and having a grand time.

I have a bunch of pictures from last night, but unfortunately don't have access to them right now. There's so much material from EAS, though, I'll be posting more next week after I get home, and I promise you'll see plenty from Oktoberfest.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Ride Safety a Major Focus at EAS

The past two days at EAS 2008-Munich have provided multiple occasions for international leaders in ride safety and design to sit down in a room together and discuss this topic, which is undoubtedly the number-one priority for any attraction.

This morning IAAPA hosted ASTM International's F24 Committee on Amusement Rides and Devices for its first meeting in Europe. Thirty-seven particpants came from countries including Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, and the United States to this meeting of the F2291 task group on design of amusement rides and devices. One of the topics discussed was acceleration limits for riders who are under 48 inches tall. This morning's meeting was a significant milestone as it marked the first time the F24 Committee has met in Europe (though it has had input from European technical experts in the past). Everyone at the meeting was invited and encouraged to attend the next consideration of these topics at the ASTM meeting next week, Oct. 9-11, in San Diego, California. More more on that session, click here.

Safety also dominated Monday afternoon's educational seminars here at the Messe Munich, with a three-hour Attractions Safety Forum. The event was broken into three parts: setting ride safety standards, the benefits of ride reporting systems, and incident management.

I sat in on the ride reporting seminar, where Randy Davis, IAAPA's vice president of government relations, explained how association-mandated incident reporting in the U.S. has proven what a strong safety record our facilities have. That data has, in turn, helped IAAPA demonstrate to the U.S. government that federal oversight of the industry is not necessary.

BALPPA's Colin Dawson said Europarks will continue to solicit ride reporting from European facilities, and hopes translating the survey's questionnaire into multiple languages will help increase participation.

Finally, Adrian Mahon of Merlin Entertainments Group demonstrated how his company has moved its incident tracking completely online by using software from UK-based Enable Infomatrix. Mahon said the benefits of moving Merlin's reporting online are many, including: no paperwork, so data is much easier to enter and track; identifying incident "hot spots"; providing internatl benchmarks and comparisons across rides and facilities; and helps in site-planning purposes, among many other benefits.

Bob Rogers' Rules for Creating Attractions

Bob Rogers, founder of California-based design firm BRC Imagination Arts, gave what could be considered a companion presentation to Pine’s earlier Tuesday. Rogers told the audience he was going to help them take Pine’s theories and put them into reality in the attractions business.

Like Pine’s explanation that authenticity is defined not by a business, but by its customers, Rogers said attraction designers must look into the hearts of its customers to spur their creativity. He said preliminary sketches shouldn’t start at the 30,000-foot level, but with what the guest can expect to derive from the experience. He broke this application down into a series of five points designers must consider while creating an attraction:

1. Where Is the Story?
“The story lives in the hearts and minds of the audience,” Rogers said, citing as an example how many buildings in the world—with no inherent story to them—still hold a very emotional place in their guests’ hearts. He mentioned the Empire State Building specifically, as visitors bring with them all the romantic notions of the building portrayed in countless Hollywood productions; thus, Rogers said, the New York City icon, though it is not inherently romantic, is the site of marriage proposals on a daily basis.

2. Know Yourself
A good attraction, Rogers said, will interpret a facility on the basis of its ability to inspire love, hope, reassurance, and strength, principles Walt Disney laid out more than 50 years ago when he opened Disneyland in California. A great park should honor its heritage while still moving into the future, Rogers said.

3. Be Original
Rogers said it’s his fear that the attractions industry is being too repetitive, with facilities trying to offer exactly what its competitors are offering instead of striving for elements that set it apart. “When products are all the same, you will compete on price,” he said, and that doesn’t keep the industry fresh and new. He said facilities should use conferences such as EAS 2008 for “research and courage,” to find out what competitors are doing and then find your own unique expression of that idea. This point was so important to him, he broke it down into another series of five points: Make it true; make it local; make it personal; make it fun; and if you do all that, you will make it original.

4. Design from the Inside Out
As mentioned above, start with the guest, not the schematic.

5. Put in a Miracle
Rogers admits there’s no scientific method to adding that special touch that puts an attraction over the top, but he sure did try. He said all design teams need to have the following:

• List-checker—Someone who ensures all the necessary steps are accomplished.
• Cheerleader—The person who gets the group energized in the beginning of a project.
• Eeyore—Like the famous Winnie the Pooh character, someone who will bring group down to earth (hopefully without being too pessimistic).
• Fool Killer—A detail-oriented person who, like the list-checker, helps bring the project home in the second half, but isn’t around to kill ideas during the early stages of an idea.
• The Magician—The quality control person, who isn’t afraid to say “that’s not good enough” and reject ideas that don’t fulfill the project’s potential.