The Euro Attractions Show (EAS), organised by the International Associations of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) took place last week at London’s Olympia Convention Centre. It saw over 7,000 visitors and a record number of exhibitors (336) attend the 3 days of the show and over a thousand participate in the conference. But what was it like for the exhibitors, where could one find the most wonderful Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and which company director set his own jacket on fire?
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London was a great choice as this year’s host city. Boasting many world-class attractions and any number of top class hotels and restaurants the city was sure to provide a superb backdrop for the show. West London, where the Olympia Exhibition Centre is based, is home to a clutch of the world’s finest museums all within a stone’s throw of each other: The Natural History Museum, The Science Museum and the V & A, with Harrods, the King’s Road and Chelsea all within a short walk. The venue itself had real charm, the 19th century halls and galleries a nice break in the calendar from the standard soulless out-of-town convention centres.
IAAPA’s initial estimate was that just over 7,000 visitors made it to the show. Whilst they might have been hoping for a few more, the halls nonetheless felt pleasantly busy throughout the 3 days, with a slight falling off only in the last few hours of Thursday. In assessing the success of a trade show, the focus is often on the number of visitors, yet this can be misleading. Getting visitor numbers through the door is one thing but getting the right visitors is more important to the exhibitors, and on this measure the show was a clear success. Walking the aisles I encountered many owner/operators from leading European attractions, with most of the continent’s major theme parks represented.
"An upswing in investors and developers taking on new projects"
Comments from exhibitors recognised this quality/quantity distinction:
Nir Zohar, Qendix CEO: “For a first time exhibitor at the EAS, the show met and exceeded our expectations. We gained several quality leads and started a couple of real actionable processes."
Bart Dohmen, Managing Director at BRC Imagination Arts BV: “The EAS was like the weather in London: Wonderful! A great show with a lot of new leads.”
Michael Collins, principal, LDP: “EAS was a great show and certainly reflected the upswing in investors and developers taking on new projects. We met with several groups from diverse markets regarding feasibility analysis. Clearly new projects at an early stage are positive news for all suppliers.”
Paul Collimore, Sales Director Aninmalive: “A really great show for us. What impressed me was the quality of the visitors. We got twice the number of quality leads we had at last year’s show in Rome.”
Simon Foulkes, Sales & Marketing Director, Rainbow Productions comments: "Rainbow Productions is optimistic about the potential for new business delivered from EAS, for our bespoke mascots. The show floor seemed busier than usual and the London location provided an opportunity to promote ourselves specifically to the increased proportion of UK visitors. “
Annabel Story, Sales Director, Avius Experience Ltd: “A good show and we have some great leads”.
Back to the pub
As with any trade show, the show itself is only half the story; the opportunity for professionals in the industry to catch up with old friends and network is the real reason many attend. A highlight was the BRC Imagination Arts dinner, hosted by Donna Davidson, Bart Dohmen and Jeroen Holman at Whits in Kensington. Listed in Tripadvisor’s top ten of 5,500 London restaurants, Whits is the kind of posh French restaurant we English do so well, fine cuisine with lashings of Bordeaux.
Ticketing specialist Open Frontiers put on a lunch on the Tuesday at a local pub. Guests were plied with champagne and canapés whilst being given an overview of developments at the company in the past year by MD Oliver Wigdahl. Chelsea Football Club is a notable client and further stadium clients will surely follow. Simon Egan of BeWILDerwood, an Open Frontiers client also based in East Anglia, gave a brilliant potted history of the “curious tree house adventure”.
The same pub on Wednesday saw Animalive entertain and Anthony Stubbs, the new Head of EMEA Sales was a fine host. I sat with Nils-Erik Winther, Director at Bakken, the world’s oldest amusement park (453 years!), Peter Western from lighting company Martin Professional and Elton Games’ Tony Whittaker. Nils told us about how his brief- trying out rides - had taken him to the top of the Stratosphere Las Vegas and an encounter with the X-Scream ride. The ride was 5,000 miles away yet still we felt a little nervous hearing about it.
Of Merlin and the Legends
Alongside the show there was an educational programme/conference. Attendees heard from speakers on subjects including social media, fan communities, intellectual property (IP), branding, safety, HR and waterparks. There was also a panel discussion with 3 legends of the European attractions industry: John Collins, Colin Dawson and Olivier de Bosredon. The conference began with the first Euro Attractions Show Leadership Breakfast, sponsored by JN Entertainment & Leisure Consultancy. The guest speaker was Nick Varney, CEO of Merlin Entertainments, who spoke about his vision for the company, its continued development and philosophy. Hearing from the executive at the heart of one of the attraction industry’s biggest success stories was a suitably rousing and optimistic note with which to kick off the show.
Wednesday evening and the Gala Dinner at the Royal Courts of Justice. Instead I attended a much less formal affair and spent the evening sitting outside a Kensington pub with an eclectic mix of theme park professionals, many of whom were in ticketing. Mike Furman and Charlie Broschart from Gateway Ticketing, Martin Barratt (MartinBarrattLtd) , Andy Povey (ProLogic First), Stuart Norris (Magic memories) Yael Coiffman (LDP), Armin Hessenberger (smartmachine), all drinking warm beer after a long day at the show.
A group of us then found a curry house to sample that most traditional English dish, Chicken Tikka Masala. We had a fine night and as so often happens when such frenzied networking occurs, left the restaurant with a firm plan to do something that hadn’t occurred to us just a few hours before. I am now committed to take a charabanc in the spring to DeEfteling (the most incredible, beautiful theme park according to Martin, who worked there as a teenager) with Andy, Martin and Andy’s dog.
Back at the show, two of the most striking booths were those of Simtec and TAA. The first was all gleaming white and chrome, German designed and pristine. With the company’s HEXaFLITE® theatre, a fully immersive simulator ride highlighted on the plasma screen and the minimalist decor, the booth had a distinctly sci-fi feel. There was something unreal too with the TAA booth, a pirate’s galleon. Good old fashioned pirates of course, not machine-gun toting Somalis.
The three best booth positions were held by thejuice, Vortex Aquatic Structures and Elton Games, as they formed three sides of a square around the cafe/bar area near the entrance which was a hive of activity throughout the show.
On the last day I had a quick bowl on the QubicaAMF alley. The company is based in Bologna, which is famous for its pasta sauce, although oddly enough the Bolognese sauce is not actually known by that name in the city: Italians knowing it as ragu. Incidentally, never ask for La Bolognesa in one of the city’s restaurants...
Cheese, wine and tired legs
As the show drew to a close I was treated to some delicious Parmigiano-Reggiano and red wine by Andrea Munari on the I.E.Park booth. In addition to amusement rides and bumper cars, his family have a farm and a herd of "parmesan cheese" cattle. The herbs in the region’s grass enable these highly skilled cows to create the famous cheese. More delicacies at Polin Waterpark’s booth, where Marketing Manager Sohret Pakis, on seeing me, retreated into her office and reappeared with some Turkish delight. A heavenly sweet but wasn’t this the downfall of one of the Narnian children?
Olivier Wigdahl, socialising in the cafe, urbane and sophisticated with a continental style coffee, smelled burning and initially thought little of it. Continuing his conversation he felt a little heat too, and on glancing down discovered that his jacket was on fire. Thinking quickly he utilised his Caramel Latte Macchiato to put out the blaze, leaving a circular hole in his pocket. Never a good idea to lean against industrial grade lighting equipment.
Always fascinating who you bump into along the aisles. Consultants Keith Thomas (Petersham Group) and Tim Rusby cruised the show then ended up, like many of us, in the Hat and Feathers afterwards, along with the TEA crowd – David Willrich, Nick Farmer, Phil Hartley, Alan Wilkinson and Michel Linet-Frion - fresh from the Dr Who experience hosted by Sarner. Bumped into one of this industry’s leading journalists, Juliana Gilling, who, like my youngest daughter is an avid practitioner of the ancient art of hula-hooping. Great Wolf’s Franceen Gonzalez was around too, no doubt keeping an eye open for exciting new waterpark products. Jumana Brodersen of The JCo made an appearance and Thinkwell’s Kelly Ryner was passing through, working, but with one eye on an upcoming 4 day laptop-free holiday.
Off to Germany
Overall the show was great. If a trick was missed in not having the gala dinner at the Natural History Museum (a mile away and one of the world’s most wonderful buildings) the show itself proved a successful and well planned affair. The venue worked well and the trade floor seemed full and busy throughout the week. The conference program was well attended and exhibitors seemed very positive about the quality of the visitors. No doubt about it, this is the industry’s premier European event . Roll on Berlin.