What were you looking forward to most at this year’s IAAPA Expo?

I always look forward to crossing paths with the literally hundreds of colleagues, friends, and associates in the industry I have worked with for more than 25 years. It’s always a great annual industry homecoming that I enjoy attending each year.  This year Wyatt Design Group traveled a team of 6 to conquer and divide, taking client meetings, new partnership meetings, and walking the show floor; and yes, a visit to a theme park or two—for research, of course.

There were a few specific specialty vendors that we wanted to learn more specifics about their products, services, and technical details.  I always have a list of vendors to visit to see what’s new, but this year it is the most diverse list of all: everything from zip lines and ropes courses to VR media systems.  There seems to be an increase in new exhibitors—or at least new products—that offer innovative new components that can be integrated into our projects.  It’s always a great week to catch up on new developments in entertainment and leisure technology, but this year seemed to be exceptional.


What was the focus of this year’s show for the WDG Team?

This year as in most previous years, we planned to meet with major ride vendors for specific theme park projects, but due to the wide variety of projects in the family LBE (location-based entertainment) realm–without naming names—we explored vendors providing thrill and adventure elements like climbing walls, zip lining, Ninja Challenge courses, surf wave machines, aqua play systems, slides and wave pools, simulators, VR and AR experience systems, laser mazes, and unique physical play systems.  The team was on the lookout for all forms of interactive media concepts that could be adapted for walk-through attractions or exhibits, especially.   We also checked out the specialty ride vendors for interactive/shooting dark rides, and other small-scale family rides that can fit into a small footprint.  On top of that, we are always interested in any new, wacky, innovative attraction system that may have applications in our current or future projects.


What did you find of interest at this year’s show?

Well, most of the large ride and water park manufacturers were premiering new product that was impressive, but I was fascinated with a small booth demonstrating interactive media systems that allow kids to design creatures and have them come alive and manipulate them on a giant screen, and a multi-user animated sand box utilizing augmented reality and digital mapping projection.  There was also a robotic VR goggle cleaner system that was an interesting solution for cleaning all those VR goggles.

I lost count of all the booths that had VR demos, some more successful than others. I think VR still has limited applications for high-capacity attractions, but for smaller capacity, limited footprint attractions there are some strong possibilities, particularly in multi-user real-time experiences.

The extent of vendors of ninja challenge courses, rope courses, climb walls, gravity-powered alpine coasters, zip lines, and even modular caving (yes, spelunking!)  systems reveal a demand for physically challenging experiences for all ages.  I find the “fun walls” with automatic belay systems that feature interactive gaming elements and projections remarkable in that they quickly motivate very young children to safely challenge themselves to climb vertical walls up to 20+ feet.  These new products are creating a new generation of serious rock climbers.

I believe these new physical activities are a reaction to so many years of video games and traditional game centers.  Families are looking for more authentic challenges that improve physical ability and fitness.  Off the couch and onto the climbing wall! I love it.

We also attended several seminar sessions: Experience Design: New Paradigms, Creating the Ideal Entry Experience, Creating Immersive Attractions, and several others.  IAAPA is always a great opportunity to keep up with what others are doing in our industry, and what new technologies are being applied.  It’s way better than just reading the monthly trade publications to hear and see real-time examples of what’s new.  It helps all of our design staff keep up with the constant innovation in our industry. It’s motivating and inspiring—but ultimately exhausting!  There’s so much to do each day—then there are the evening mixers.  Thank heavens it’s only a week.


Addendum:  Check out this article on Las Vegas switching gears, just as we predicted. https://vegasinc.lasvegassun.com/news/2017/nov/26/las-vegas-looks-outside-the-casinos-to-draw-in-mil/?utm_source=ITPS+Amusement+INdustry+News&utm_campaign=15f46abb46-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_11_27&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_51d9c64022-15f46abb46-231733933


Did you visit any theme parks in your free time in Orlando?

This is a big part of the week for our staff. From Universal’s Diagon Alley and Gringott’s to the Crayola Experience, there is so much of the industry’s new products and attractions to experience while in Orlando.  This year, the team visited both of the above, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom’s new World of Avatar, and Universal’s Volcano Bay among others.  We have been quite active in waterpark design the past year, so a day at Volcano Bay was essential for us, including checking out the Tapu Tapu wristbands.  Seeing Pandora in person—both at night with the IAAPA event and in the daytime was just stunning.  Flight of the Banshee was nothing short of mind-blowing.   A true game-changer for simulators and “flying theaters.”


What was your overall takeaway from the Expo: 

The themed attraction/destination industry continues to evolve and expand.  The industry is truly robust and expanding into new destinations; resorts, cruise ships, casinos, visitor centers, science museums, traveling exhibitions, art installations, escape rooms, “game” centers, and all forms of what we refer to as LBE’s (Location Based Entertainment Centers).  While theme parks continue to grow world-wide—particularly in the Middle East and Asia—smaller, more specialized destination attractions are cropping up everywhere that utilize many of the same storytelling techniques, ride/show systems and technologies developed for the mega-parks.  It feels like a true Renaissance is underway in the industry when the producer of a traveling exhibition of Van Gogh shares the stage with the producer of Disney Shanghai’s new Pirates of the Caribbean ride and an Architect designing “lifestyle centers” throughout the world and it’s difficult to determine who you learned more from.