IAAPA then and now

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 17, 2021, 7:44 PM | comments: 0

It felt amazingly normal to visit the IAAPA Expo this year, and it occurred to me that I've been going to the attractions industry trade show now on and off since 2000. I think I've gone most every year since I moved here and it was primarily headquartered here. Things have changed a ton for me in that time, but not the business. These days, I mostly just try to catch up with anyone that I consider a friend, and not really for anything specific to CoasterBuzz. There are a few reasons for that, not the least of which is that I don't have the desire to create content the way that I did back in the day. I feel like all of the things have been covered, and they haven't changed all that much. (I think that's why we kind of non-deliberately stopped doing the podcast before podcasts were cool... we ran out of things to talk about.) My network has also shrunk a great deal, because people I knew moved on to other industries, retired, etc. That said, in the few hours I was there this year, I did catch up with six people, only one of which I was intentional enough to contact ahead of time.

But I sure do remember going for the first time in 2000, when it was in Atlanta. I was only five years out of school with a journalism degree, so I felt like I had something to prove. There were a lot of enthusiasts that went in those days, and since I was working at the time for a B2B media company that did trade shows, I never really understood why. People are there to do business and sell product, and no matter what industry it is, a lot of those products aren't very interesting. I decided ahead of time to try and compose an editorial agenda that would be interesting to the enthusiast crowd, but also the industry itself. I arranged one big interview ahead of time, and that year it was Dick Kinzel, who was CEO of Cedar Fair. Then I networked to a few ride manufacturers that had a story to tell, in this case Custom Coasters and Setpoint, and did some interviews with their people and featured some of their products. It really worked out, and I had a ton of stuff that was general interest and not strictly enthusiast oriented. With the site less than a year old, it established the focus on industry news.

The next year I basically followed the same pattern, with Will Koch from Holiday World, plus the heads of Arrow and S&S. Again, really positive feedback and traffic with a ton of original content beyond photos of ride manufacturer booths. While I've attended shows on and off since then, and even spoke at the 2007 and 2008 conferences, I never really went all-in on writing stuff since then. It's just too hard to do when you have a family, a career, and frankly not the same level of interest.

The industry has consolidated a ton over the years, and there are definitely the same group of mature players in the ride space, including water rides, that have been around most of the time that I've been going. A lot of smaller equipment vendors have come and gone, and it's weird to see service companies making big splashes, especially software companies. That surprises me because the possible addressable market on some of their use cases is not large. Even as well as I understand it, and having worked briefly in it, I'm not sure I would endeavor to build a company around products for that industry. It feels enormous but I don't think that it is.

So while I'm not as active as I used to be, it's still fun to catch up with people when they're in town, and see what some vendors are up to. Free ice cream and skee-ball isn't bad either.


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