IAAPA show vendors go all out: Jokers, zombies, rides, slides

There's no room for humility this week at the attraction industry's big annual trade show.

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions' Orlando expo has attracted more than 1,000 companies vying for business and trying to make a statement about themselves.

This is, after all, an industry centered on entertaining people.

So contractors spend days setting up elaborate booths at the Orange County Convention Center. There are video screens, music, scale models, and animatronics.

It's important, said Oceaneering Entertainment Systems' head of creative services Matt Kent, to "show up and show off."

Oceaneering is on the trade-show floor next to Falcon's Creative Group, and that's by design.

The companies have a display of a suspended theater they have collaborated on together. Also, you can don a virtual-reality headset from Falcon's and see characters superimposed on Oceaneering's moving EVO-06 ride vehicle next door.

You can't board Oceaneering's vehicle – although other companies have fully operating rides that people can try for themselves.

Walking through the IAAPA floor is an exercise in sensory overload. There are rows of rides, inflatables, animatronics, tech devices, game prizes and food.

For industry executives, "this is like Christmas," Sally Corp. Chief Executive Officer John Wood said.

Sally's booth features The Joker and Walking Dead animatronics. The Joker is on his way to one of the Six Flags parks opening a ride based on the Batman villain. The Walking Dead zombie doesn't yet have a home. Sally used its exhibit last year to feature its ride based on the gory TV series, but no one has bitten.

"Obviously, we're very disappointed" it didn't sell last year, Wood said. The theme may be too intense for what's generally a family-oriented industry, he said. Still, "we were convinced it was a hot enough property to bring back."

Sally spent more than $200,000 on its 800-square-foot display this year. IAAPA, Wood said, is "where I get 90 percent of my business."

Around the trade-show floor, suited theme-park executives huddle at tables learning more about a potential partner or finalizing a deal. Some companies build closed-off rooms for more privacy.

For accesso, a technology company with headquarters in Lake Mary, its white booth with private meeting space and a prominent circular sign overhead is what Chief Executive Officer Steve Brown called "a brand statement."

Like many companies, accesso this week hosted a news conference announcing a new product launch at its booth. Triotech did the same – and also used its space for a happy-hour event.

For Proslide Technology, IAAPA is one of the last chances to get a contract negotiated in time to have a waterslide debut for Memorial Day, when many of its water-park clients open for the season.

The Canadian company has a 3,200-square-foot carpeted space with two towering arches that people can see from rows away. It has a meeting room, break room, award display, and tables with colorful models.

"It's almost like a showroom for us," said Chelsea Ogilvie, Proslide's marketing programs manager.

Exhibitors this year take up a record 570,000 square feet of space.

Others take a more low-key approach to IAAPA, however.

"Ninety percent of the potential clients out there, we know," said Craig Hanna, chief creative officer at the Los Angeles-based Thinkwell Group design company. "Showing up on the floor is about having people discover you."

Thinkwell has dozens of people in town for IAAPA, but they are meeting with clients at the Hilton across the street. It's generally a quieter atmosphere – except for the sounds of "Macarena" that emanated from a nearby room for a minute.

Still, Hanna said, the IAAPA convention is important, so his company pays to be a gold sponsor of this week's event. Thinkwell's name shows up on IAAPA's app as a result, he said.

Dynamic Attractions has a conference space on the floor, but, said spokesman John Kageorge: "It is hard to get people to focus on you in that stimulating environment."

So the company also escorts people to its development center about 10 minutes away. There, it has about three football fields of space devoted to robotic arms, virtual reality and other creations.

"... That's all they focus on when we get them over there," he said.

spedicini@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5240

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