San Antonio welcomes
IAFE, SLA for second year
AT: B. Derek Shaw
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The IAFE and the SLA were back in San Antonio for their annual early-December conventions. TheHenry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the fourth floor of theHyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk Hotel were the respective locations.
Over two-and-a-half days, 272 different vendors utilized 385 available spaces at the 129th IAFE (International Association of Fairs & Expositions) show with 43 exhibitors participating in the 16th SLA (Showmen’s League of America) exhibitor’s lounge trade show. Total attendance was nearly 3,000 for IAFE and more than 400 for SLA. The IAFE show had a preponderance of entertainment exhibitors followed by insurance, rental companies, and ticketing and technology service vendors. Next door, the two-day SLA show offered ride brokers and manufacturers along with related services at their tabletop show.
“I think the 2019 IAFE trade show and convention has been spectacular. We were really excited coming into this, because we had [the] trade show totally sold out,” saidMarla Calico, IAFE president and CEO. “Most days we were getting calls to bring in more chairs to the educational sessions. We’ve had a lot of compliments on the program content, the quality in the trade show and they loved the facility. And of course we’ve had good weather!”
Cindy Henning, executive director of SLA was also pleased. “We had a really good crowd and a really good show this year. TheGrand Hyatt has been great for us, being next to the convention center.”Mary Chris Smith was elected as the new president of the association. “I follow in the footsteps of my grandfatherH.W. 'Hub' Luehrs,Luehr’s Ideal Rides ; my auntJean Ann Clair, Luehrs Ideal Rides ; and past president UncleAndy Schoendienst . It’s a big honor for me and I’m really happy to serve. I’m the third woman president in the [SLA] history,” said Smith.
There were six amusement companies with booths at the IAFE trade show. They includedDeggeller Attractions,Kissel Entertainment,Powers Great American Midways,Reithoffer Shows,Strates Shows andTalley Amusements.
Following is a sampling of some of the vendors, their wares and their thoughts about the trade show floor.
Indiana Ticket Company makes all types of printed ticket items, including hangtags, auction tickets, single and double roll tickets, redemption coupons and vinyl wristbands. The company was represented by the affableBill Owen. “I see a lot of customers here. It’s a good time for everybody to get together and see everybody that you haven’t seen all year.” New for the company is a digital dry ink process the company recently introduced that aids in the prevention of counterfeiting.
“It’s been awesome. We enjoy this every year [and] look forward to it,” saidMike Kephart, president ofTrams R Us. The tram rental service company’s customers include theNebraska State Fair,Kansas State Fair,Florida State Fair,Florida RV SuperShow andMecum Car Auctions. “We come in. We provide the drivers, the fuel, we provide everything. They just tell us where they want them. One stop shopping,” said Kephart.
Populous is a global design firm that specializes in event venues. “We have a real strong portfolio of work with fairgrounds that ranges from master planning work to new facility design. We look holistically at the site and how all those buildings work together for large events or individual events,” explainedCharlie Kolarik, associate principal. The company recently did work with theOklahoma State Fair on a new 200,000-square-foot expo hall. Populous also helped them recraft their equestrian livestock event zone. Currently they are working on the design of a new multiuse event arena.
When asked about the show floor, Kolarik said, “This trade show is great. We’ve been coming to IAFE for a really long time. It’s like a family reunion, almost. We see a lot of familiar faces, [and] meet the next generation of folks who are enhancing the venues of their facilities.”
Circus Hollywood is a traditional family-themed circus that produces numerous shows including racing pigs, motorcycle thrill shows, petting zoos, animal encounters, pony and camel rides. The rental side includes bleacher, big tent, sound and light and stage rentals. “The past couple of years we have been doing most of the state fairs, like theNew York State Fair, [and] theFlorida State Fair. My father is also a Shriner where we do three ring circus displays,” saidCrystal Coronas. When asked about the trade show, Coronas said, “It’s been pretty awesome. We like San Antonio, but we do miss Las Vegas.”
Vice President of SalesGary Todd withDeltronic Labs, Inc., a custom hardware/software company showcased a new product. “Our main focus is in the family fun business. We’ve done ticket eaters and we’ve done ticket dispensers. We have come up with an automated ticket dispenser, so people don’t have to go up to the ticket window and give their cash or credit card to a person to get their tickets. They can simply come to the kiosk and punch in what they want, swipe their card and out comes their tickets,” said Todd. This product came after extensive research at various venues. Todd found that 92% of the people he researched would rather go up to a kiosk than see a person.
Weather insurance for outdoor events is important.Stacy Busta,Vortex Weather Insurance, explained what the company offers. “We protect against rain, snow, heat, a combination of elements. We do it in a variety of ways, hourly, daily — we’re pretty customizable to protect fairs and festivals. The weather is changing and we should be an important part of their risk mitigation plan.” Busta thought the show was “pretty good. We got lots of people. It’s been a good experience.”
Variety Attractions is a full-service talent consulting/concert producing entertainment agency. “We do everything from the grandstand shows to the grounds acts to virtual reality machines,” said Todd Boltin, president. “I came across these guys [VR machines] last year at the Michigan Fair Convention [Michigan Association of Fairs and Exhibitions].” Variety had two on display. One was centered on distracted driving while the other contained virtual amusement rides including a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel and Jurassic Kingdom. “It’s something new and different that the kids are looking for today. I’m trying to stay ahead of the curve,” said Boltin.
Recently, Variety signed a deal withMajor League Eating, a company that organizes professional competitive eating events and TV specials, like the annualNathan’s Famous Fourth of JulyInternational Hot Dog Eating Contest. Variety will help facilitate different contests at numerous fairs based on the food that is special to that region, like cheese curds, tacos, burritos or something else. Regarding the show, “We’ve seen a lot of new traffic, this year — a lot of fairs that haven’t been here. That’s a plus,” said Boltin.
Some of the 43 SLA tabletop vendors includedAllied Insurance,Chestnut Identity Apparel,Haas & Wilkerson,ITAL International,Bob’s Space Racers,Zamperla,Gull Wing,Rides4U,OA Finance,Wisdom Rides,Eli Bridge Co.,AERIA,Battech Rides,Worldwide Safety Group,Firestone Financial,Kaliff Insurance, andWaterloo Tent & Tarp Co. TheNorthwest Showmen’s Association was there promoting its February ride safety seminar.OABA also had a presence.
IAFE recognized individuals and fairs for service and excellence.Kent Hojem, CFE and CEO of theWashington State Fair in Puyallup, received the Hall of Fame award.Emily Grunewald of theRed River Valley Fair, West Fargo, North Dakota, was named Rising Star, andCriss Neiman, with theWyoming Association of Fairs, was selected as the State & Provincial Associations’ Executive of the Year. Heritage Award winners wereBrian Carlson,Itasca County Fair, Grand Rapids, Minnesota;David Simington,Clay County Fair, Spencer, Iowa;Susan Sullivan,Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, Gaithersburg, Maryland;C.W. Thomas, Iowa State Fair, Des Moines; andCharlotte Thompson,Washburn County Fair, Spooner, Wisconsin.
Jeremy Parsons, Clay County Fair, was elected second vice chair.Jessica Underberg,Erie County Fair, Hamburg, N.Y., passed the chair’s gavel toNancy Smith,South Carolina State Fair, Columbia.
Upon conclusion of the trade show, 100 IAFE members enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour ofSeaWorld San Antonio. “The guest services people talked about behind-the-scenes in guest experience, because guest experience is the catch word of everything right now,” said Calico. Concurrently, and new for this year, were two small group sessions in the convention facility focused on how the center manages security and operations logistics along with electrical, plumbing and other services. “We have a lot of resources right here in San Antonio that we’ve not done yet. We’ll probably roll out each year more off-premises experiences,” said Calico.
The 2020 convention takes place Nov. 29 – Dec 2.
Disney strikes back with E-ticket
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
AT: David Fake
Special to Amusement Today
Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, the new attraction that opened atDisney’s Hollywood Studios (in Central Florida) in early December and opens this month atDisneyland in Southern California, a mesmerizing, exciting, and fully immersive 15-minute experience that does not hold back when it comes to theming and excitement. The attraction, with its multiple ride systems and show scenes, is difficult to categorize, but one thing is certain:Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) has delivered exactly what someStar Wars fans and park guests were saying was missing from the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge lands.
When Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios debuted their near-identical versions of the land in May and August, respectively, someStar Wars fans and park guests were left wanting more. This is not to say that the land and its opening-day attraction, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run were not hits. The lands and attractions at both parks have been widely lauded for their innovative, imaginative, and immersive design. In fact, the first of the two identical Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run simulators at Disneyland was awarded a Golden Ticket Award byAmusement Today for Best New Family Attraction of 2019 and was named one ofTime magazine’s World’s Greatest Attractions.
Still, for some, there was a sense that something was missing. Some said that void was an anchor attraction — a ride of grand scale that pulled everything else in the land together. Conversely, this response perplexed many who immediately fell in love with the land, as is. Those in the latter category contended that maybe the problem was that WDI did such an amazing job, fans were really just hungry for more. Regardless of the reason,Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance certainly serves up the meat and potatoes and feeds a hunger many were craving, while delivering something extra for fans in both categories.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is difficult to classify as a ride or attraction because it is a sprawling adventure that incorporates multiple ride systems, show scenes and an intricate story line. Disney’s Imagineers went back to their roots (think Pirates of the Caribbean) with a great story that unfolds throughout the experience, but they went one step further with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. With this attraction, Disney’s unparalleled mastery of themed entertainment is exercised with such precision, guests are never quite sure where the preshow ends and the ride begins.
(Note: spoilers ahead!) Disney ImagineerJon Georges, executive producer for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, explained the ride toAT in this way: “You’re engulfed in the attraction from the time you enter the briefing room, where BB-8 and Rey give you your mission. You then hop on a transport ship, piloted by audio-animatronics of Nien Nunb and Lieutenant Bek, a new character from the same alien race asReturn of the Jedi’s Admiral Ackbar. You're then diverted to a [First Order] Star Destroyer in space. Now on board the Star Destroyer, you exit the transport ship and are directed by stoormtroopers to an interrogation room, which is, in actuality, a cell. Here General Hux and Kylo Ren threaten you for information on the Resistance. Ultimately, Resistance agents break you out of the cell and you board a trackless vehicle and attempt to escape from the Star Destroyer and Kylo Ren.”
There are actually four different ride mechanisms throughout the experience: a transport ship simulator, a trackless ride vehicle, a drop elevator and a second simulator. These are so seamlessly incorporated into the attraction that most guests will not realize the transition into the final two mechanisms. Said Georges: “At one point, our trackless vehicle pulls into the escape pod, which is mounted on a simulator, think Star Tours, within a drop elevator, think Tower of Terror. So, you have this sort of triple-ride sandwich, that is, ultimately, the key to your escape and your return to the planet. I really mean it when we say it is the most ambitious and most technically complex attraction ever undertaken. We've literally combined multiple systems that all have to talk to one another and hand off to each other.”
Georges explained that the whole idea for the attraction came out of a “blue sky” (concept phase) meeting more than four years ago. It gelled very early into the ride as it exists today without much change. “Throughout the design process, WDI had a direct relationship with theLucasfilm team. So, the filmmakers that are making theStar Wars movies every day were embedded in the Imagineering team.Deb Chang, who is the VP of design for theStar Wars brand at Lucasfilm, was on our team and helping us with every storyboard sketch. Everything we did in close collaboration with the Lucasfilm team to make sure we are portraying the characters authentically, and that [the attraction] is really part of theStar Wars canon in a very authentic way. In the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land, we crafted not only a new planet, Batuu, but also a brand-new place [Black Spire Outpost], and we wanted to be certain they meshed seamlessly with all aspects of theStar Wars franchise,” said Georges.
During a special dedication ceremony on the eve of the official opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance,Bob Chapek, chairman ofDisney Parks, Experiences and Products, lauded the attraction’s immersive storytelling and echoed Georges’ views of its technological innovations. Chapek said, “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance sets a new standard for what a theme park experience can be. Tonight, we’re welcoming the world to experience theStar Wars galaxy like never before, with the opening of the most ambitious, immersive, advanced, action-packed attraction we’ve ever created.”
At the dedication of the attraction, several very special appearances and scripted performances were integrated into the event. These included a lengthy lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren, and an appearance of two van-sized X-Wing Fighter ships above the attraction. Boeing later confirmed that two of their Cargo Air Vehicle drones were utilized at the Dec. 4 dedication ceremony.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened several hours earlier than scheduled on Dec. 5, with a special My Disney Experience App virtual queue. By incorporating this smart tactic that prevents what surely would have been an hours-long line, the park allows fans and guests to experience other attractions within the park while they wait, but most importantly frees the guests to spend money that they could not if they were confined to a line for hours on end. At press time, this virtual queue was still in place at the attraction, but there has been no formal statement by Disney on how long it will remain.
With Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance now open and the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land complete, even the harshest critic of the land’s incomplete lineup of opening-day attractions should be satisfied. In fact, they will now have to admit that the land is now not only world-class and perfectly well-rounded with a complete offering of attractions and entertainment experiences, but also that Disney has far exceeded expectations in delivering the a E ticket-worthy attraction that is truly out of this world with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.