Report on 2003 IAAPA Convention

As always, the IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) convention continues to grow in size. This year it was held in the new Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL. A reported 30,062 people attended. With 1,253 exhibitors, the trade show covered half a million square feet. I heard one report that the aisles were 11.5 miles long. That may be a PR exaggeration, but my sore feet sure won't disagree.

I'm continually asked by people what I thought was new and exciting. This year, my answer is the Skeeball alley-game, which is celebrating its 94th anniversary. Yes, there were some new rides, faster roller-coasters, some new games, new go-kart models, some new foods and widgets being added to or variations of other attractions. But when it comes to what's new, my response is basically a take on "back to the future."

What do I mean by that? Success in the location-based entertainment (LBE) industry has a lot more to do with building on basics than chasing after the next big thing. In fact, facilities chasing after the next big thing to get their attendance up have most likely failed to execute their basic concept correctly to begin with.

What really brought this home to me was a behind-the-scenes "Disney by Design" tour given by the Disney Institute I took with 99 other fortunate show attendees at Walt Disney World. We visited one of Disney's parks early in the morning -- a whole different world versus when it's open to guests. There were workers conducting maintenance and making repairs everywhere. But what got my attention and impressed me most was learning that every single night, Disney power-washes every square inch of all the sidewalks in the parks. Yes, that's right, every single night! Our Disney Institute guide told us that when Disney surveys returning guests on why they returned to Walt Disney World, the top three reasons given, in decreasing order of importance are:

  1. Cleanliness
  2. Friendliness of the Disney cast (staff)
  3. Fun

Our guide went on to tell us that Disney considers those to be their core competencies, and basically in that order. He said Disney, in fact, does not consider itself to be as competent with entertainment technology as some other parks (that could be argued based on their newest attraction, MISSION: Space). Disney's ingrained culture of cleanliness was evident when our guide stopped on two different occasions to walk over and pick up small scraps of paper. I have only seen a cleanliness culture this strong at a Herschend major park (operators of Silver Dollar City, Dollywood and Stone Mountain Park) when I was walking through the park with the general manager and he stopped to pick up small pieces of trash he spotted.

Think about it. Disney considers its parks' cleanliness and the courteousness of front line staff to be the corporations most important assets, more so than entertainment. It's sure hard to argue with that, considering the long-term success Disney has had, despite increasing competition from such recent rivals as Universal Studios.

It sure doesn't get much more basic than clean and friendly, with some fun thrown in. That's where so many LBEs miss the mark. They forget the basics and instead just focus on the entertainment components (see Upscale Entertainment Facilities article in this issue for more about what really constitutes an entertainment experience). I wonder how many small parks, family entertainment centers and other LBEs power-wash their sidewalks every night? My guess is less than 1%. I can hear some operators saying, "We're not as large as Disney, we can't afford to do that." Well, Disney may be bigger, but think about the economics. It has acres and acres of sidewalks. And perhaps a hundred thousand people walking on them in a day, but when you break it down to footsteps per square foot of sidewalk per day, the ratio is probably not that different than many FECs and smaller facilities. And even if Disney's ratio is seven times greater than smaller facilities, I can only wonder how many facilities power-wash their sidewalks every week. Most just wait until the sidewalks look so gross that the situation demands attention.

Yes, it's back to the future for success. Building on basic entertainment concepts is what success is all about -- whether it is skeeball or miniature golf, food and beverage, games, bowling or other proven entertainment components, combined with the basics of offering guests a quality entertainment experience.

For years, our company has been producing successful projects for our clients using the basic and time-proven concepts of a focused assortment (mix) (see Not All Populations are Created Equal article) of evergreen entertainment and play elements. We combine that with quality food and beverage and package it in a quality environment with attention to detail, maintenance and operational costs, then deliver it to guests with an operations culture based on exceptional customer service and facility maintenance. Yes, what's new is what's old.