IAAPA's annual amusement industry expo will return to Orlando, but not to normal


  • Image via IAAPA | Facebook
After shifting to a virtual version last year due to the ongoing pandemic, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) announced its flagship expo will return to an in-person event this November. The annual tourism expo ranks among the largest events hosted by the Orange County Convention Center and has become a yearly opportunity for the region to showcase its largest industry.

Previously known as the International Attractions Expo, the IAAPA Expo welcomes tens of thousands of attendees for a week of educational sessions, networking events, and more than half a million square feet of exhibition space.

The annual event, which dates back to 1917, previously moved around the U.S. but since 2010 has found a home in Orlando. In 2019, IAAPA also moved its global headquarters to The City Beautiful with a custom-built, 21,375-square-foot headquarters not far from the Orange County Convention Center.

With few convention centers large enough to host the annual expo, the commitment to remain in Orlando was seen as a blow to Las Vegas, which also hosted the expo. When the North/South Building at the Orange County Convention Center opened in 2003, the IAAPA Expo was the first major event at the facility, which has hosted all but three times since then.

Since the pandemic began, the Orange County Convention Center has seen more than six dozen shows canceled with an economic impact well north of $1.2 billion. Early on in the pandemic, IAAPA remained committed to their in-person event in November 2020, but as the year progressed and the virus spiraled out of control more exhibitors confirmed they would not be participating in the expo. In September, IAAPA finally announced it would shift to a fully virtual event. The move was widely viewed as an acknowledgment by the tourism industry that things were still not ready to return to normalcy.
Social distancing was a rarity at previous IAAPA Expos, but the association confirms it will use all necessary safety measures moving forward. - IMAGE VIA KEN STOREY
  • Image via Ken Storey
  • Social distancing was a rarity at previous IAAPA Expos, but the association confirms it will use all necessary safety measures moving forward.

But with vaccines now steadily rolling out, hope for normalcy has come back. IAAPA confirmed that all three of their global expos, including the massive Orlando one, will return to in-person events this year.

“This past year has been unlike any other our association, and our industry, has ever encountered,” said IAAPA President and CEO Hal McEvoy. “Members have been looking to us to help them push the industry forward so guests around the world can safely return to the fun we are known for. The best way we can do this is by bringing the industry together for our global Expos. No matter what stage of reopening, re-emerging, or recovery members are in, they will be able to find inspiration, solutions, and new connections in Shanghai, Barcelona, and Orlando.”

To fill the void of in-person events, numerous groups announced virtual expos. Some of those, such as one hosted by tourism news site Blooloop and another led by virtual reality expert Bob Cooney, saw huge success. These events were also used as platforms for companies to announce their latest offerings, an honor typically reserved for IAAPA events.

Some expos have shifted to a hybrid model allowing for those unable or unwilling to travel to still partake in the event. IAAPA has, so far, given no indication that they plan to offer any virtual events during the IAAPA Expo this year. With other virtual expos now proven to be successful and some people potentially still unable to travel due to local COVID precautions, there’s uncertainty regarding if November’s expo will be as large as previous ones. Also, in recent years some have begun to grumble at the high cost required to have a physical presence at expos like IAAPA's.

Orlando's IAAPA Expo is still the leading expo for the industry, but with the new competition now providing virtual events and as more companies review previously assumed expenses, in the future that lead may not be as large as it once was.

The IAAPA Expo will take place November 15 – 19. Preliminary COVID precautions are posted on their website and will be updated as appropriate moving forward. Registration for exhibitors is now open.  

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