By Chad Emerson
Every year, thousands of amusement industry officials descend on Orlando for the annual IAAPA Attractions Expo. Walk the halls of the massive Orange County convention center and you’ll find just about any service or product that an amusement facility could possibly require. Indeed, the 2014 show alone included over 1,000 exhibitors comprising over 550,000 square feet of exhibit space.
But, as great as the expo is, there are also other places and methods for meeting your annual vendor needs. For this Large Park Report, we visited with several industry officials to find out how and where they find the services and products they need to succeed every year.
The Effect of Technology
Technology has made communicating, and, as a result, doing business, much easier and more efficient. Prior to email, video-conferencing and other virtual ways to interact, the annual exhibitor events were the key to meeting as many possible vendors in the shortest period of time. That’s changing, though, as video-chat and real-time document exchange technology has improved.
Granted, there’s still great value in touching and physically testing some products (as opposed to just seeing them online) but several industry officials told us that the increased cost of travel has to be balanced with the increased reliability and efficiency of virtual meetings. In fact, several large park operators like Disney and Universal have advanced communication systems that allow them to interact with prospective vendors and service providers without requiring direct in-person interaction.
While Disney and Universal may be able to utilize the advanced, custom technologies, they might be out of the price reality for some medium-sized and smaller facilities. Fortunately, less costly and extremely useful technologies like Skype and Apple iChat can fit almost any budget. In addition, large document exchange tools like Dropbox as well as Cloud-based technologies like Google Drive all have business versions that have customizable options while remaining extremely affordable. Plus, these are just a few of the hundreds (if not thousands) of apps and technology tools in these areas.
The reality is that almost any facility on any budget can utilize some form of video-conferencing and real-time document exchange technology to reduce the need to travel for meeting vendors in person.
At the same time, industry officials noted that these type tools have not completely replaced in-person meetings and travel for the Six Flags and Cedar Fairs of the world. There will still be some meetings, especially those finalizing an important purchase or engagement, that warrant this type interaction. However, one official advised us that they used virtual meetings for many preliminary purposes while exploring vendor options and offerings. They then generally limited in-person meetings to final negotiations.
Make Them Come to You
It is true, though, that the choice isn’t strictly limited to traveling to a vendor or interacting in a virtual way. Another option, one that has been around since the earliest sales calls, is to have the vendor or service provider come to you. This is a particularly interesting possibility in the amusement industry since it is generally filled with many more professional consultants and vendors than actual amusement facilities. And, according to several operators, the number of vendors and service providers seems to be growing faster than the number of facilities.
As a result (and not just for large parks and resorts), many segments of the amusement industry are seeing a buyer’s market for vendors and consultants as they aggressively court new facilities for their products. This increases the likelihood that these providers will agree to come to your facility for demos and product tests. Not only does this reduce the cost of your travel but it also provides the benefit of seeing the products more directly in the setting of your facility. This can be a huge benefit for everything from small kitchen equipment to sophisticated point-of-sale systems.
Ultimately, large parks and resorts continue to flock to the various industry exhibitor events each year. This is unlikely to change soon because in-person contacts continue to have real value. However, what is changing is the increased use of technology for vendor demonstrations and consultant presentations as the amusement industry adapts to the reality that every interaction doesn’t require an actual handshake. Sometimes a virtual one can work just fine.
(Reach Contributor Chad Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org.)