IAAPA is back in town, and it’s here to stay.
The trade association, more formally known as the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, has long been an annual visitor to Orlando, throwing a massive expo at Orange County Convention Center. But as of this summer, IAAPA is a permanent, year-round resident, leaving behind its space-squeezed headquarters in suburban Washington, D.C.
“If it made sense to move, it was very apparent that this was the right place,” said Paul Noland, IAAPA’s president and CEO. The association is entering its 100th year.
Planning for the 2017 Attractions Expo, the first since the change, was “definitely easier,” Noland said. “If we want to look at something, we can run over there and see it. And just the fact that we have more staff members who are Orlando-knowledgeable has a big benefit, too.”
The draw of Orlando was not only because of its attraction-manufacturer-vendor base, Noland said. The number of members visiting Florida during the year also was attractive.
“Our chance for interaction and connection with our members is just going to be exponentially better here than anywhere else we could locate,” he said.
The range of attractions, from mom-and-pop shops to multinational behemoths, helps make a trip to Orlando valuable, said Christian Martin, vice president of marketing for Montreal-based Triotech.
Growth beyond the big guys — the “What are we going to do when I’m not at Disney?” crowd — is huge, Martin said.
“Look at International Drive,” he said. “These are real attractions that will draw people for hours on end. Instead of just food and beverage and souvenirs, there’s a whole attraction industry around the attraction industry.”
The annual show in Orlando is about more than talking to clients, he said.
“We want to see people in rides … and how they behave. How they walk. What they look up at. What makes them smile or not. It’s like a market-research center,” Martin said.
IAAPA’s first expo in Orlando was in 2003. More than 36,000 attendees and 1,100 exhibitors are on hand for this year’s event, which isn’t open to the public. Membership comes from 104 countries.
The move was a good idea, said Guy Nelson, CEO of Dynamic Attractions, which has expanded to add a development center in Orlando.
“We know it’s a global industry, but the global industry comes here … at least once a year,” Nelson said.
“Being here in the pulse of it all … knowing what exists, what do we have to beat, what do we have to do better? It’s good,” Nelson said.
The new IAAPA headquarters is temporarily housed in an office complex in south Orlando. It has purchased 6 acres on nearby Shingle Creek, where it will build its new home base about 10 minutes away from the convention center, Noland said. Meeting space for IAAPA members is being incorporated.
There will be a groundbreaking in the spring, with the intention of moving during summer 2019.
IAAPA’s officers held a virtual groundbreaking onstage, complete with hard hats, during the kick-off of this year’s expo.
“The next 100 years begin right here, right now,” Noland said.