In early 1917, after ten years of periodic attempts to join their collective voices together, amusement park and other outdoor entertainment representatives from all over the United States gathered at the Congress Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, to discuss the possibility of organizing an association for their industry in keeping with the slogan “Common Defense and Common Advancement.”  From this meeting emerged the National Outdoor Showmen’s Association (NOSA).  In 1918, it officially became the first national organization in the United States for all segments of the amusement park and outdoor entertainment industry.

Prior to 1918, other formalized organizations represented the outdoor amusement industry, but were essentially confined to a single segment, like fairs, circuses, or carnivals.  These groups included the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE), the Carnival Managers’ Association, and the Showmen’s League of America (SLA).  The SLA and IAFE are still in existence today.

The officers elected to this burgeoning organization were R.M. Harvey, President; Victor D. Levitt, Chairman, Board of Directors; Frank Spellman, First Vice President; James Patterson, Second Vice President; Frank Albert, Secretary; and George A. Schmidt, Treasurer.

The immediate task confronting NOSA was to protect the industry from unjust legislation and to promote its best interests where needed.  NOSA worked hard at its designated task and succeeded in eliminating the amusement tax on outdoor amusements, as well as obtaining special consideration from the government regarding deferments from military service for amusement men because of the importance of recreation to the armed forces and civilian population.

As time went on, however, it became evident the amusement park segment of the association was carrying most of the responsibility, both financially and otherwise.  Eventually, the membership in NOSA gradually decreased until it consisted almost solely of amusement park owners and managers.

In January 1920, just one month prior to the annual meeting of NOSA, a special meeting was held at the Fort Pitt Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to discuss the future of the association.  Andrew S. McSwigan, President of Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, hosted this meeting, where it was advised that a new organization devoted more completely to protecting and advancing the best interests of America’s approximately 1,500 amusement parks be developed.

The attendees at this meeting included Henry Auchy, Philadelphia Toboggan Company; Charles Browning; Frank Danahey, Kennywood Park; Frank Darling, L.A. Thompson Enterprises; John R. Davies, Willow Grove Park; John R. Gammeter, Summit Beach; A.R. Hodge, Riverview Park; D.S. Humphreys, Euclid Beach; Fred Ingersoll; E.J. Kilpatrick; F.C. Manchester, Summit Beach; Austin McFadden; Fred Pearce; George Schmidt, Riverview Park; Milford Stern, Palace Gardens; H.C. Traver; R.S. Uzzell, Circle Swing; and Judge Charles Wilson, Fontaine Ferry Park.  These men sought to form a true business association for the amusement park industry dedicated to cooperation, mutual welfare, educational objectives, and protection against unjust taxation.

The NAAP is Born

Thus, in February 1920, these men and others assembled at the Auditorium Hotel in Chicago to dissolve NOSA and form the National Association of Amusement Parks (NAAP).

Frank Darling of L.A. Thompson Enterprises summed up the problems of the dissolved NOSA and underscored the need for the new association.

“To be or not to be, that is the question. Shall there be a real working association of Park Amusement Men or not? For several years half-baked attempts have been made. Almost every kind of obstacle has been met – alliance with a cantankerous and indigestible element that had to be vomited up; some internal dissensions – but I verily believe the greatest mistake was in centering all the force of the association on one defensive campaign in which the only appeal to members seemed to be to get their money. It was a worthy project, but not one to coalesce a lot of widely separated individuals. The object of a successful association must be decidedly constructive and must have enough reasons for existence to interest every individual.”

NOSA Secretary Frank Albert seconded these observations, describing his desire for an organization characterized by true cooperation within the amusement park industry and much broader aims.  The new group must add mutual welfare and educational and protective functions to NOSA’s primary goal of protecting the industry from unjust taxation.

The members of the new NAAP elected the following men as their officers:  Andrew S. McSwigan, President; Milford Stern, Vice President; A.R. Hodge, Secretary; and George A. Schmidt, Treasurer.

The purpose of the association was five-fold:

  • present papers on various topics – such as new devices, advertising stunts, picnics, and insurance – at an annual convention;
  • monitor and influence federal, state, and local legislation;
  • deal with insurance problems;
  • cultivate working relationships with fairs and carnivals, and promote mutual concerns;
  • promote safety among parks.

In less than a year, the group was garnering praise from such influential industry publications as The Billboard, which noted in a January 1921 editorial that:

“NAAP has developed into quite a healthy organization, a factor to be reckoned with.  Much has been accomplished in this short space of time, and greater things can be expected of the organization as the years roll by.  And after all of the aims and purposes are fully carried out, parkdom will have much to be thankful for.”

Of course, NAAP recognized from the start that one of its principal aims was to safeguard the exemption on amusement taxes originally secured by NOSA.  President Andrew S. McSwigan noted NAAP's efforts when he wrote of the association’s success in 1922:

“What has the association done for the park owner, manager, or concessionaire? It is solely responsible for the recent change in admission taxes, which went into effect January 1. Just a year ago, when the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives began its work on the new tax schedules, it was then proposed by Treasury Department officials to raise the admission taxes from 10 percent to 20 percent. The Legislative Committee of the association got busy and not only succeeded in defeating the attempt to increase the tax, but then secured the entire elimination of the tax on ten cents or less admission. This means that when we open in the spring in parks, rides, shows, etc. where the admission is 10 cents or less, there will be no tax….

If the association had never done anything else or never will do anything else, this one accomplishment justifies its existence and should make every man and woman in the business feel that membership in such an organization is well worthwhile. And we are not going to stop on past performance. We took the best we could get on the matter when we compromised on 10 cents or less, but we propose to continue our work until all admission taxes on the poor man’s amusements are abolished.”

Trade Show Brings Life to the Convention Floor

At the second Annual Convention of NAAP, three manufacturers displayed samples of new amusement devices on the convention floor.  At the third Annual Convention, 45 exhibits of amusement park equipment were displayed and the “trade show” element of the convention was inaugurated.  The new association and trade show met with universal enthusiasm and grew so rapidly that it was necessary to move to larger hotels to accommodate attendees and exhibitors. In those early years, the association held subsequent meetings in the Congress Hotel, Hotel Sherman, Drake Hotel, Hotel Stevens, and Palmer House, all in Chicago; the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City; and the York and Royal York hotels in Toronto, Ont., Canada.

In 1925, NAAP organized a committee for manufacturers and distributors of amusement park equipment.  The committee worked under the auspices of NAAP until 1935, when the members of the group decided to break away to form the American Recreational Equipment Association (AREA), an organization known today as Amusement Industry Manufacturers and Suppliers (AIMS) International.

The New England Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, a pioneer organization of amusement park operators, aligned itself with NAAP in 1926. Originally known as the Massachusetts Association of Amusement Park Men, this group has remained a loyal supporter of the association.

NAAP functioned well during the early years, and weathered the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression with the assistance of many loyal members who, in addition to their own annual dues, advanced monies to enable the organization to carry on, as the number of parks dwindled to around 400 by 1935.

At the 1930 Convention and Trade Show, Secretary Alfred R. Hodge described the state of NAAP during that time of economic strife:

“In spite of the condition of the time through which we have passed since the holding of our last annual convention, the association has grown from 174 to 182, with the gross number of members aggregating 265 due to the fact, as we all know, that some memberships carry with them more than one member. This is a very encouraging and wholesome condition, as I believe that any organization or business which can have an increase during these times is indeed built on the rocks of permanency and stability.”

A new source of membership was soon to appear.  Because of rapid growth and development of the swim industry during the 1920s, the need for an association had become evident by the end of the decade.  In 1930, a number of leaders in the industry formed the American Association of Pools and Beaches (AAPB), with N.S. Alexander of Woodside Park and Crystal Pool of Philadelphia serving as its first President. The principal aim of this new organization was to educate its members largely about sanitation, to ensure the protection of the public.

After four short years, however, the members of the AAPB decided they would be better served if the group became part of the National Association of Amusement Parks.  Thus, at the 1934 annual meeting of NAAP, a new organization was formed:  the National Association of Amusement Parks, Pools, and Beaches (NAAPPB).

NAAPPB Celebrates Silver Jubilee

As the United States entered World War II and began fighting alongside its allies, NAAPPB Secretary Hodge described the amusement park’s role in wartime to The Billboard:

“It has long since been proved that perhaps the finest antidote for fear is fun, and that is our business. … Fun is a gloom chaser; fun drives out discouragement and despair; fun pushes aside pessimism.”

Although 1943 was a time of great conflict in the world, the association reached its first milestone and celebrated in grand fashion.  President Leonard Schloss conveyed the pride and accomplishment of NAAPPB as he welcomed the men and women who gathered for the association’s 25th anniversary:

“When I joined the association almost a quarter century ago, little did I dream that it would be my privilege to serve as your President on the occasion of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary. As I gaze across the years since our founding, on the screen of my memory are projected countless great achievements and the faces of a host of men, many of whom are now among the immortals of our industry…We are assembled on a special occasion – our Silver Jubilee. I extend to all a most hearty greeting and invite you to call on me, as your President, for any service
which I may render during the current convention to make your participation in the festivities as enjoyable as possible.”

By the end of the 1940s, however, many parks were worn down by deterioration and disrepair due to the cumulative effects of the Great Depression, World War II, and its immediate aftermath.  And much of the park-going public had begun to voice its disappointment.

To begin addressing this backlash, NAAPPB adopted the following Code of Ethics at its 1950 Convention as the standard for all members:

  • Provide clean, wholesome, and safe outdoor recreation for everyone.
  • Fill the hearts of children and all those young in spirit with joy, while spending their hours of play and outdoor recreation in sunshine and fresh air.
  • Treat our patrons as our guests and, by our courteous manner, make them our friends.
  • Conduct our business on the highest plane of integrity so that all individual establishments will occupy places of honor in their communities and our industry may be respected by the nation at large.
  • Consider the ideal of service as one of our foremost requisites.
  • Foster and maintain a spirit of cooperation and fairness dealing with our employees and concessionaires.
  • Establish and maintain intimate, cordial, and friendly relations with our fellow members.
  • Establish and maintain a spirit of fairness and protection with amusement device builders.

We believe that these principles must be carried out by each member individually in order to foster and promote our industry, which is a high and worthy one and also a vital and necessary part of our community life at all times.

A Mouse Brings Magic to the Industry

This rejuvenated attitude materialized not a moment too soon, as the Baby Boom generation was just beginning to come of park age.  Beginning in the late 1940s and then exploding in the early 1950s, amusement parks rode the “kiddieland” wave to renewed success, buying rides and creating areas for guests ages 2-12.  The “kiddie” phenomenon was fairly short lived, however.

During this same period (late 1940s / early 1950s), the concept of themed amusement parks began to take root in ideas developed by Charles Wood (The Great Escape), Walter Knott (Knott’s Berry Farm), and Bill Koch (Holiday World).  But in 1955, Disneyland showed the country what a fully realized theme park could be, and the industry has never been the same since, changing in ways no one could have predicted.

Under Walt Disney’s meticulous care, imagination and fantasy became the most important ingredients in the amusement park experience – creating, in effect, something wholly different than what came before.  As noted designer James Rouse has put it:

“Disneyland took an area of activity – the amusement park – and lifted it to a standard so high in its performance that it really became a brand new thing.”

Never one to miss an educational opportunity at a fabulous new venue, NAAPPB hosted its 1956 Summer Meeting at the California theme park, and Walt Disney spoke to the attendees about the “Creation of Disneyland,” describing his use of such industry innovations as one central entry gate, beautiful landscaping, original rides and attractions, and extensive theming.

The opening of Disneyland represents perhaps the most important line of demarcation in the history of both the association and the amusement industry in general.  Also of critical importance to the long-term future of NAAPPB was its formal decision around this time to begin evolving into a truly global organization. 

While rooted in the United States, the association, almost from the start, was an international group.  Fine amusement parks in Europe – such as Tivoli in Denmark, Liseberg in Sweden, and Blackpool Pleasure Beach in England – participated and contributed to the association.  However, in 1961, after much discussion regarding the composition of the organization, it was decided that a concerted effort should be made to bring parks outside the United States into the association.  This decision was strengthened by the sudden appearance of European rides in the American market.

At the same time, the swim club, pool, and beach members of NAAPPB decided to end their affiliation with the association.  Thus, in 1962, the organization became known as the International Association of Amusement Parks (IAAP).

And IAAP had plenty of potential “customers” to service, as a 1963 Amusement Business census estimated more than 1,500 parks in the United States alone, a growth driven by the regional and more- replicable theme park concept pioneered by Six Flags Over Texas in 1961.

IAAP Goes for the Gold

In 1968, as IAAP celebrated its 50th anniversary, President Harry J. Batt, Jr., summarized the growth of the association:

“Welcome. I’m happy to be with you this evening, so that together we may honor the 50th consecutive convention and trade show of IAAP, which represents our great outdoor amusement park industry! Fifty years is a long time by any standard, and I think it’s fitting that we take a moment to look at the past, the present, and the future of our industry, and some of the facilities and the people who helped make it the enterprise it is today!…

“In those early days, American amusement parks were mostly open outdoor groves used by families and groups for their entertainment. Some of those parks are still in existence today, and I’m sure you’re familiar with many of them:  Coney Island, Dorney Park, Lake Compounce, Kennywood Park, Elitch Gardens, Whalom Park, Silver Beach, Oaks Amusement Park…

“Today we hear some self-proclaimed prophets who annually predict the death of our industry. But our industry’s business volume and capital expenditures continue to grow each year. It is true that existing parks, many of which are located on high value land in or near expanding urban areas, must ultimately decide the logic of continuing in business…

“Yet, the machinery, the men, the brains, the ability to smooth our road ahead are all present. And the vehicle by which these talents and resources can be effectively used is also present…. It is the International Association of Amusement Parks. With the help of each one of you, IAAP will marshal these talents and resources to solve our problems and achieve our goals. Together, we have made IAAP the respected organization it is…together, our total adds up to something greater than the sum of our individual efforts…together, together…IAAP will remain an ever-strong vehicle to serve its members and its industry.”

The amusement sector witnessed another first in 1971 with the opening of Walt Disney World in Florida, a destination park complex aimed at entertaining guests not just for an afternoon or a day, but for multi-day visits full of rides, shows, shopping, dining, and nightlife.

IAAPA Reaches Out, Domestically and Overseas

In 1972, responding to the emergence of other types of entertainment and amusement facilities, IAAP became the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).  According to former IAAPA CEO John Graff:

“The organization redefined itself to encompass everything that wasn’t an amusement park in the traditional sense, but that still operated from a fixed location.  It turned out to be a smart move, because the decades that followed saw tremendous growth in waterparks, family entertainment centers, and other segments of the attractions industry.”

Simultaneously, the association also intensified efforts to internationalize its membership and reach.  Graff later noted:

“Opening IAAPA up and recruiting international members involved a tremendous gamble.  The commitment to becoming a global organization meant additional expense, not only for transportation, but also for translating such services as training programs and certain convention seminars into other languages.”

But thanks to visionary members like former IAAPA Presidents Carl Hughes and Bob Ott, it was a commitment the association was determined to carry out.  Hughes subsequently described just what took place:

“A small group of us started traveling regularly to various places in Europe and spreading the word about the association.  It would probably be a misnomer to call these visits actual ‘recruiting’ missions.  Instead, we got to know people over there on a personal basis, and through that a lot of them started to come to our convention and become active in the association.  So between the fact that we were traveling and spreading the word, and also the fact that the European manufacturers found a market here, it all happened.”

During his presidency of the association in 1974, Hughes reflected on IAAPA’s accomplishments at the time:

“A former President of our association, on hearing that the membership of IAAPA rose 25 percent in the last two years, told me of his first amusement park convention. The war had just ended a few months before. He was fresh out of the service and went to the Chicago convention with his father, who was prominent in the association for many years…

“‘The main thing I remember,’ he recalled, ‘is a conversation between Dad and several friends from other parks. They were frankly pessimistic, to the extent of saying is it fair to bring these young fellows into the business if there is no future? Their reasoning was based on television and all the other post-war entertainment that was supposed to make amusement parks out of date. If they could only be here now!’

“Well, we now have the benefit of hindsight. In 1945, who would have believed anything as industry-changing as Disneyland would come along 10 years later?

“Not that Walt Disney ‘saved’ the outdoor amusement industry. It was doing  well in 1955. But he wakened it to new greatness – and brightness – much as color changed the movies. And along with the industry, the association, too, has grown – and not just in numbers. It has grown in services to its members.

“The convention – and wasn’t the first one at the new trade show site in Atlanta just the best ever! The Summer Meeting, the Management Seminar, the ACTIONEWS, the Manual and Guide, the Public Relations Program, the Safety Program, the Promotion Scrapbook, and, newest of all, the Training Program which will be provided this year. All of these are services to the membership.

“Then there is what, to me, is the most important of all – the Legislative Effort. This program, so long spearheaded by Harry Batt, Sr., has alone been worth the price of membership. And it’s probably where we’ll need your help the most. We can do together what we cannot do alone.”

The industry kept changing, too, through the late 1970s and early 1980s.  The first full-fledged waterpark, Wet ‘n Wild, opened in Florida in 1977.  Amusement Business noted that more of the “announced” parks actually got built during the 1970s than in any other decade prior.  And Kings Island Amusement Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, inaugurated the use of “shoulder seasons” by opening for four weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve in 1982.

To keep pace with an evolving industry, IAAPA introduced its flagship publication FUNWORLD in 1985, and purchased its international headquarters building in Alexandria, Virginia, the following year.  Reflecting the continued importance of manufacturers and suppliers to the association, IAAPA’s 1986 Annual Convention and Trade Show in Orlando, Florida, drew 13,500 attendees – nearly double the attendance from just five years earlier.

By the mid-1980s, there were only about 500 - 600 amusement parks in the United States.  While most of the remaining parks were still owned and operated by families or small proprietorships, the emergence of regional theme parks owned and operated by large corporations changed the nature and face of the industry and IAAPA.  The first significant wave of amusement and theme parks spreading into Asia, South America, and the Middle East was also starting to have an impact.

A Plan for Growth

To address these changes and their effect on the association, a strategic planning committee was appointed to study and make recommendations for the future of IAAPA.  The committee completed and published its report in 1986, thereby establishing a valuable periodic evaluation process for the organization that continues to this day.

Some of the most critical issues considered by the first committee were inviting other amusement industry segments to join IAAPA to ensure its steady growth, and development of international products and services.

Consequently, in 1988 the association formally invited miniature golf courses and family entertainment centers to become members in response to the expansion of the amusement industry.

And to become more global in scope, the organization established the International Council in 1990 to give advice and direction regarding programs and services for members outside the United States.  The council and its governing operations committee would prove instrumental in the successful recruitment of international members and the development of quality products and services.

In the first few years of the 1990s, IAAPA reached new heights in its support of the industry.  The association established the IAAPA Hall of Fame, with its first class of inductees, in 1990 (see Appendix B for a full list of members).  Right from the start, this honor was reserved for the true giants and pioneers of the amusement industry, as noted in its statement of purpose:

“The IAAPA Hall of Fame is an acknowledgement and celebration of outstanding achievement and contributions by individuals to the growth and development of the amusement industry; an industry that, like few others, depends on the imaginations, talents, and vision of its dream builders.  However, inductees are not chosen by virtue of their personal success alone, but rather for significant contributions to the entire industry, their community, and the world.”

The manufacturer, supplier, consultant, and concessionaire members of the association continued to support IAAPA through these years of dynamic growth.  They made the annual trade show the largest amusement industry exhibition in the world – an exclusive marketplace that gave attendees the opportunity to view the latest trends in equipment, food, technology, and entertainment, and gave sellers the opportunity to meet with qualified buyers from across the globe all under one roof.  In 1991, the 73rd Annual Convention and Trade Show in Orlando welcomed more than 19,000 attendees – a growth of nearly 50 percent, again in just five years.

Taking another step in its growing internationalization, in 1992 IAAPA elected Bo Kinntorph of Liseberg Park in Gothenburg, Sweden, as its first non-United States president.  During his tenure, the organization held its first “Future of the Industry” conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, to obtain an augmented international perspective on ideas and trends in the amusement sector.  Kinntorph also set in motion plans for the first IAAPA Summer Meeting outside the United States, held the following year at his home park, Liseberg.  In addition, international membership rose to 27 percent of total IAAPA membership and hailed from more than 61 countries.

Former association CEO John Graff later recalled:

“Bo was a very vocal and active advocate on the part of IAAPA.  He would talk us up anywhere and everywhere he traveled.  And I think we knew that he would be a person who would be recognized internationally in the first place, and also an excellent ambassador for IAAPA as its first international president.”

Recognizing that education and training are among the most vital services an association can provide, IAAPA also doubled its commitment to bringing the very best talent and learning from both inside and outside the industry to the membership for the purpose of improving performance and encouraging professionalism.  Beginning in the early 1990s, the association virtually exploded with exciting new educational products and services for its members.

IAAPA’s Onsite Training Program for front-line employees debuted in 1992, followed the next year by the first Amusement Industry Institute Program at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, a week-long training for senior executives.  Training the Trainer workshops were added to the association’s offerings in 1994.  The seminars presented at the Annual Convention and Trade Show also began their rise to a new level of breadth and excellence, and included the inaugural Amusement Facility Management School in 1996 for middle managers (now known as the IAAPA Institute Programs).

A Platinum Milestone

In 1993, amidst the changes and growth in its membership and services, the association took the opportunity to recognize and celebrate its 75th anniversary with a handsome keepsake publication on IAAPA’s long history, as well as several special events at its Annual Convention and Trade Show.  Amusement Business joined in the celebration with a tribute piece on “this unique, innovative, and progressive organization.”

Responding to the recommendations of the association’s third strategic plan, adopted in 1994, IAAPA formed a Manufacturing and Sales (now Manufacturers and Suppliers) Committee that same year to better serve this vital and growing segment of the membership.  As IAAPA’s first-ever Annual Report noted at year’s end:

“A new committee was established to meet the needs of our manufacturer and supplier (M and S) members.  The Manufacturing and Sales Committee, chaired by Bill Alter of Alter Enterprises, New Jersey, met to review association programs and to formulate a number of recommendations for additional and improved services . . . including future trade show sites, development of trade show rules and procedures, and improving communications with M and S members through FUNWORLD magazine.”

During the mid-1990s, the association also extended membership eligibility to zoos, aquariums, and museums, to keep pace with the ever-wider application of amusement elements to different types of facilities.  The 1994-95 period marked a significant expansion in IAAPA’s globalization efforts, with its co-purchase of the Asian Amusement Expo, the creation of the International Representatives program, the adoption of the International Council’s initial strategic plan, and the organization’s Summer Meeting in Hong Kong – its first in Asia.

At the same time, IAAPA decided to give something back to the worldwide community through its adoption of Give Kids The World in Kissimmee, Florida, as the association’s official charity.  Since 1995, IAAPA has supported this magical village dedicated to kids with life-threatening illnesses in a multitude of ways, from the World Passport program to member donations of materials and expertise to the golf tournament and other activities during the IAAPA Attractions Expo, the organization’s annual November trade show.  This special relationship remains one of IAAPA’s most rewarding endeavors.

In 1996, the association addressed two objectives from its 1994 strategic plan in a big way:  establishing IAAPA as the preeminent resource on industry information, and conducting a more pro-active public relations program.

Early in the year, the organization entered cyberspace with its own web site.  According to President Geoffrey Thompson:

“Most significant among this year’s achievements was introducing our worldwide web site, IAAPA online.  This fast lane on the information superhighway allows amusement colleagues throughout the world to gather data, swap tips, converse, sell their wares, and even conduct all-night research – right from their own desktops.”

And the International Year of the Roller Coaster (IYRC) worldwide media campaign was a major hit in helping both the industry and the association proactively promote themselves.  With the help of 10,000 press kits and two media teleconferences, the IYRC campaign ultimately garnered $13 million worth of coverage, reaching more than 52 million people, and even the United States Senate proclaimed June 16-22, 1996, as National Roller Coaster Week.  All in all, quite a ride.

A focus on the roller coaster was only appropriate in the mid-1990s, for the industry was in the midst of its decade-long “coaster wars,” as many parks competed to offer the latest and greatest version of this all-time favorite.  With these new rides, new parks, more live entertainment, and innovative sponsorship deals, the industry enjoyed steady, moderate growth in the United States and Europe during this period, while expanding dynamically in Asia and South America.

The association reached another significant milestone in its international outreach in 1997, when the percentage of members from outside the United States topped one-third of total membership for the first time in IAAPA’s history.  The IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando produced a second historic moment that year, as the more than 33,000 industry professionals who turned out made it the highest-attended IAAPA expo ever.

The Spirit of Excellence training awards were introduced during the ’97 trade show, joining such veteran IAAPA industry honors programs as the Service Awards, Brass Ring Awards, and Exhibitor Awards.  Later additions included the Souvenir of the Year Awards (debuted in 1998), the Big E entertainment awards (1999), the Top FECs of the World Awards (2003), and the Must-See Waterparks Awards (2005) – all to the end of recognizing and promoting the best that the global amusement industry has to offer.

Leading the Way into the New Millennium

As a new century dawned, IAAPA found itself working with industry partners to counter all the negative coverage an aggressive press corps could offer.

Following some high-profile ride incidents in 1999 and a subsequent whipped-up media frenzy concerning amusement safety, the association spent four years (2000-03) publicizing the industry’s excellent record – and refuting false accusations – by marshalling resources, coordinating strategies, and reaching out to reporters and government officials alike.

During this period, IAAPA provided its members with dozens of media materials, engaged in a ride safety educational program with the public, established a dedicated Communications department, and utilized outside expertise in its government relations and public relations efforts. 

The association also set up a ride incident reporting system for its United States facilities with rides, releasing the first results in 2003 through the National Safety Council, and helped facilitate ground-breaking independent scientific reviews on ride forces in 2002-03 that authoritatively demonstrated the inherent safety of rides for the general populace.

While IAAPA highlights the industry’s outstanding record on a regular basis, the words of one of its Safety White Papers were never more true during this episode, and remain so today:

“Ride safety is thus fundamental to the amusement industry.  A concern for the welfare of our guests from the time they enter our gates until they leave makes it essential to provide a safe form of recreation.  This unwavering commitment to safety has allowed the amusement parks and attractions industry to thrive for more than a century, and will ensure that it continues to offer safe, quality, family entertainment for many years to come.”

All this media and governmental activity did not slow the association down in other areas, however.  In response to the 2000 strategic plan, IAAPA unveiled a fresh new logo the following year, reflective of its diverse global membership, and also opened its first full-time non-United States office, IAAPA Europe, in Brussels, Belgium.  The year 2001 also saw another international first for the organization, with the offering of a Spanish-language version of its acclaimed senior-level Amusement Industry Institute Program – a member benefit that has subsequently been conducted in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Madrid.

That all these innovations should take place in the final 12 months of IAAPA President John Graff’s 22 years with the organization was only fitting.  (Graff’s title of Executive Director had been changed to President/CEO in 1997, when the title for the voluntary rotating one-year head of the IAAPA Board of Directors was changed from president to chairman.)  Like long-time IAAPA Executive Directors A.R. Hodge and Bob Blundred before him, and those who would come after, John’s dedication to the association was total – and the numbers showed it: a 900 percent increase in membership during his time with IAAPA, a 3,000 percent rise in international members, and an IAAPA Attractions Expo 340 percent bigger in terms of attendance.

The IAAPA Attractions Expo was also receiving unprecedented support from IAAPA’s manufacturer and supplier members during this period, as it set records for net square footage (in 2001) and number of exhibitors (in 2002) while in Orlando.

The year 2003 dawned hopeful. The organization acquired sole ownership of the Asian Amusement Expo in January by purchasing the remaining interests from the American Amusement Machine Association and Terrapinn, respectively.  But by mid-April, IAAPA was forced to cancel AAE 2003 in light of the raging Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak.  In a released statement, Clark Robinson, the association’s new president, noted:

“Due to the many continuing unknowns surrounding the ongoing SARS episode, we have come to the conclusion that the foreseeable health situation, in the affected areas of Asia, does not allow AAE 2003 to be planned and held under acceptable conditions.  While not an easy decision, we feel that it’s the right one for our exhibitors and attendees.”

Although a setback, this disappointment only increased the association’s dedication and ability to put on an even better Asian show in 2004, which has since been renamed the Asian Attractions Expo and remains one of IAAPA’s key components in serving and growing the amusement industry in this region.

SARS turned out to be only the leading edge of “a perfect storm” that buffeted the global amusement sector in 2003, as parks and attractions did their best to handle the simultaneous challenges of war and terrorism, reduced international air traffic, bad weather, and soft economic conditions.  The industry would emerge stronger for the adversity, however, utilizing new technologies, increased theming, destination parks, ride innovations, shoulder seasons, and indoor waterparks to restore its historic pattern of worldwide growth in the years that followed.  Amusement and theme parks in the United States led this return to strength, though continued consolidation had reduced their number to about 320 by this time.

New Initiatives, Informed by a New Mission

After helping to spearhead the adoption of the ASTM International ride design and manufacture standard in 2003 and the European standard for amusement machinery and structures in 2004, the association maintained its focus on industry safety by establishing the IAAPA International Standards Harmonization Group in the latter year.  Through this global consensus-based process, the organization is working with standards officials from around the world to produce and implement a set of universal ride safety criteria.

IAAPA continued to move ahead on the World Wide Web, too.  In 2003, an e-series module was introduced on its main site, www.IAAPA.org, to facilitate online membership applications, conference registrations, and product and service purchases.  That same year, the association took its first steps into distance learning by webcasting three of the workshops from the IAAPA Attractions Expo.  And in 2004, two entirely new web sites were launched:  www.IAAPAExpo.com, as the home for all association trade shows, and www.TicketForFun.com, an entertaining consumer site designed to help plan trips to parks and attractions worldwide.

The year 2004 proved a strategically important year for IAAPA as well.  Adoption of a new Mission and Vision Statement, in addition to its next strategic plan, sharpened the aims of the organization.  The overarching Mission and Vision Statement documents are worth repeating here:

Our mission is to serve the membership by promoting the safe operations, global development, professional growth, and commercial success of the amusement industry.

We envision a professional association regarded as an indispensable resource for our members and an international authority for our industry by:

  • Advancing safe facility operations globally
  • Advocating for our industry among consumers, government officials, and the media
  • Providing primary sources for market connections for buyers and suppliers
  • Providing continuing education and training in amusement facility operations
  • Being an allied partner with state, national, and federal industry associations
  • Being a credible resource for industry data and statistics

Central to achieving our vision is a focus on our members as the reason for our existence and a resolute respect for our employees as the source of our strength.

The “management” portion of the strategic plan empowered the board to better set IAAPA’s overall direction, empowered the members with increased opportunities for service and input, and empowered the association’s full-time staff to operate more effectively on behalf of the board and thus the entire membership.

Influenced by all of the above, the “program” portion of the strategic plan started to yield results almost immediately.  The first chief financial officer in IAAPA’s history was hired in 2004, and the organization began the process of transitioning the (renamed) World Council and International Representatives programs into the Global Alliances initiative, a series of agreements with state, national, regional, and federal industry associations around the world representing, and providing services for, IAAPA locally.

In announcing the program in November 2004, association President Clark Robinson declared:

“Now it’s time to take the next step, to enhance our services to our non-United States members and to build on the partnerships we’ve developed.

“We realize and appreciate that state, regional, and national industry associations around the world serve their members in unique and important ways.  We also know that our industry is strongest, and our future brightest, when these organizations have the resources and support they need to grow and succeed.

“It’s the strength of these associations that in turn benefits IAAPA – our membership, our trade shows, and our product lines.  So it’s in all of our interests to work together better.

“Under Global Alliances, IAAPA will develop formal partnerships with these industry groups that are mutually beneficial, based on written and measurable business plans.  Our goal is not to exert control, but instead discover new ways to strengthen the effectiveness and autonomy of these associations for the benefit of our industry in different regions.”

Essentially cooperative business partnerships, Global Alliances are meant to better serve IAAPA members and promote the worldwide industry while simultaneously strengthening local amusement industries, and they demonstrate the tremendous evolution and growing sophistication of IAAPA’s relationships with non-United States associations over the past few decades.

This evolution was on full display in early 2005, when the fifth edition of the Euro Amusement Show opened in Vienna, Austria, to rave reviews under the new co-ownership of IAAPA and show founder EAASI (European Association for the Amusement Supplier Industry).  As a post-event editorial in Amusement Today noted:

“At a time when things needed to go right for the Euro Amusement Show, the 2005 version did just that – go right. . . . Held in Vienna, Austria, the show was a complete turnaround from last year’s expo. . . . All agreed that the beautiful Messe Wien Exhibition and Congress Centre was the right location, at the right time. . . . Congratulations to EAASI and IAAPA for a job well done.”

Since renamed the Euro Attractions Show, the event has absorbed the yearly conference previously organized by IAAPA Europe and is steadily becoming the premier annual amusement and entertainment expo in this market.

Expanding Services to the Industry in All Directions

Despite such a burst of activity in the first half of the millennium’s first decade, IAAPA wasn’t content to simply rest on these accomplishments.  As if to prove the point, the association accomplished several new “firsts” in 2006 alone.  One of them was even named FIRST.

FEC Insurance, Risk Management, Service, and Training is an IAAPA-endorsed insurance program for family entertainment center members, managed by American Specialty Insurance and Risk Services.  This group liability insurance service resulted from an earlier FEC committee assessment, during which it became clear that an insurance program coordinated and supported by IAAPA was the best way to enhance safety within the FEC sector while providing more attractive insurance premiums for those members.

IAAPA also teamed up with the Travel Industry Association of America to produce an initial report on The Economic Impact of Domestic and Overseas Travelers Who Visit Amusement/Theme Parks and Other Attractions in the United States  The results of this study demonstrated the importance of amusement/theme parks and other attractions to America’s tourism industry and its wider economy.  United States members have found the report useful in communicating the significant role they play within the local economy and beyond.

In addition, the association opened up its membership to casinos and resorts for the first time in 2006, as many facilities in these long-established leisure sectors have begun incorporating amusement and entertainment features into their product offerings.

Reflecting the emphasis on government relations and safety contained in the 2004 strategic plan, industry professionals gathered in Atlanta at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2006 to participate in the inaugural Amusement Law and Government Relations Symposium.  Developed in partnership with the International Amusement and Leisure Defense Association and Faulkner University’s Jones School of Law, the symposium was IAAPA’s first-ever daylong session on this crucial subject.

Also in the realm of government relations, the efforts of an IAAPA-led coalition to expand the permissible work for 15-year-old lifeguards in waterparks reached a gratifying conclusion early in 2006 after the United States Department of Labor (DOL) clarified its enforcement position.  This decision was a particularly dramatic example of how IAAPA’s government relations department often works with federal agencies to benefit the industry, as evidenced by the words of long-time member Buddy Wilkes, general manager of Shipwreck Island waterpark:

“I wanted to thank you for your work on the 15-year-old lifeguard issue.  That group represents about 25 percent of my total aquatics staff, so you can easily see how important the DOL clarification was to our park ... If you took the 43 years we’ve been a member of IAAPA and added up all the dues we’ve paid, we just got one of the best returns on investment in the announcement from the department of labor.  I can’t thank you enough.”

Further promoting safety, IAAPA made participation in its ride incident reporting system mandatory for all members in the United States that operate qualified rides, beginning with 2006 data.  Facilities that fail to comply with this requirement become ineligible for membership.

This step also afforded the association another opportunity to support Europarks’ ongoing efforts to implement a similar ride incident reporting system for its members.  Additionally, IAAPA started working to spread the development of incident reporting systems even farther afield by presenting the idea of voluntary ride reporting to its Global Alliance partners, supplying general background materials, and encouraging them to adopt this as a goal for their organizations.

The 2007-08 period witnessed further progress on European ride reporting with the association’s opening of a new office in Europe, offering expanded and enhanced programs and services.  These included not only increased collaboration with Europarks on ride safety reporting, the first edition of which was released in March 2008, but also taking full ownership and operation of the Euro Attractions Show.  IAAPA began transitioning the timing of the event from winter to fall by holding two such shows in 2008 – first in Nice in January, then in Munich in October.

The association maintained its commitment to member outreach, industry education, and attractions safety with several other exciting developments in 2007-08.

In the world of cyberspace, IAAPA launched a completely redesigned and upgraded www.IAAPA.org, incorporating numerous service enhancements and new features, as well as the content previously listed at www.FunworldMagazine.com and www.IAAPAExpo.com.  The association also created its own Web log, or blog – IAAPA: In the Queue – to foster healthy, productive discussion about the industry and best practices among attractions professionals.

In 2007, IAAPA revamped and relocated its annual senior-level training program, with the fifteenth edition of the newly-renamed Institute for Executive Education taking place at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.  Later that year, at the IAAPA Attractions Expo, the association unveiled its new Institute for Emerging Leaders to help foster industry professionals with at least three years management experience whose skill base make them possible candidates for senior-level positions (now called the Institute for Attractions Managers).

In 2008 IAAPA hired industry veteran Ben Jones of RECreation, Inc., to serve as the association’s first FEC Specialist, dedicated solely to supplying outreach, support, and assistance to the Association’s family entertainment center community.

Continuing a long-term dedication to safety, the association also held its first IAAPA Middle East Safety Conference in Dubai in February of that year, and then in June conducted an inaugural “Attractions Safety Awareness Week” in partnership with its members to enhance governmental and public understanding of the industry’s safety practices and outstanding record.


One might be tempted to assume that an organization with such a long, illustrious history has “seen it all, done it all.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  IAAPA remains dedicated to its tradition of providing cutting-edge products and services to the global attractions industry.

Despite the challenges of 2009 – economic turmoil, lousy weather, threatening disease (H1N1 Flu) – the association joined its industry partners in not only withstanding these tests, but also moving ahead, with new and improved services like the extra value of the Partnership Plus program, with free new offerings ranging from educational webinars to Funworld article collections and tip sheets to the Peer-to-Peer Mentoring program for FEC operators.

In October, the association implemented an agreement with the International Association for the Leisure and Entertainment Industry (IALEI) to dissolve the latter group and merge its membership into IAAPA, resulting in the enrolling of approximately 520 new FEC members.

Also in October, the association reaffirmed its long-term commitment to serve members throughout the world with the establishment of the IAAPA Latin America regional office in Mexico City, with industry and association veteran Paulina Reyes as Executive Director.

During the year, IAAPA also unveiled the results of its first Brand Equity Study and its Global IAAPA white paper, the first of which provided a full assessment of the association’s strengths and weaknesses, followed by the second which detailed the path toward truly delivering member services worldwide.

In that global spirit, IAAPA expanded its Safety Institutes program in 2010 with the Safety Roadshow, featuring nine total sessions at industry conferences and exhibitions in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the United States.

Arising from this same worldwide outlook, the association hired travel, hospitality, and trade show veteran Andrew Lee in September as Executive Director of the new IAAPA Asia-Pacific office, based in Hong Kong and covering North Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Australasia.

November 2010 marked the first of 10 straight IAAPA Attractions Expos scheduled for Orlando, as well as the merging of many of the association’s individual award programs under its well-known IAAPA Brass Ring banner to create a single marquee event with more value and visibility.

The IAAPA Foundation was also created in 2010. It is a separate, nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation to fund the development of education programs and information resources for the worldwide attractions industry.

In 2011, the association began to implement its IAAPA Certification program (whose three-tiers will help further elevate the professional standards of the industry).

IAAPA’s Institute for Executive Education, which was re-launched in 2011 with academic partner San Diego State University, whose resources will help the association replicate this offering elsewhere around the world.  Regional offices added to our insights about the global attractions sector with the first Latin America State of the Industry Report and a new European Manifesto policy document.

Promotion of industry relationship-building and idea exchange also took on new forms with inaugural editions of the IAAPA Leadership Conference (a re-imagining of the former Summer Meeting) in San Diego, California and the IAAPA Europe Spring Forum in Rust, Germany, as well as the first association board meeting to be held in Latin America, at IRTRA’s attraction and hospitality properties in Guatemala.

IAAPA marked 2012 with several impressive “firsts” during its year-long activities.  At the Asian Attractions Expo in June, the association began implementing its new Intellectual Property policy, to assist exhibiting companies protect their ideas and concepts.  Utilized during the year at the Euro Attractions Show and the IAAPA Attractions Expo as well, the process helped dozens of manufacturers and suppliers address show floor examples of patent, trademark, and copyright infringement.

The board of directors met in Germany at Europa-Park in June and during that meeting they selected R. Paul Noland to be the association’s next president and CEO effective Jan. 1, 2013. He succeeds James “Chip” Cleary who decided to return to a leadership position in the industry.

The association launched a new website and industry job board in October 2012. 2012 also marked a transition in the association’s advertising program as the effort was brought in house for the first time in a number of years, a move away from using external vendors for that role that dramatically increased ad sales in all areas.

In the area of industry data, the association released the IAAPA Benchmark Studies for parks, water parks, and FECs. These comprehensive reports allowed members to compare their performance to others’ on a number of operational and financial perspectives.

Also at the IAAPA Attractions Expo, the Kickoff Event, Opening Reception, GM & Owners' Breakfast, and IAAPA Brass Ring Awards all took place directly on the show floor for the first time in the expo’s history, in a unique theater setting equipped with a special 180-degree video screen, surround sound, and seating for over 1,800.  Built from scratch in the northwest corner of the North/South building of the Orange County Convention Center, the inaugural IAAPA Theatre brought a new dynamic to the expo floor, changing traffic flow and pumping even more energy into an already-active scene.

Additionally, the association adopted its first multi-year Strategic Plan since 2007, utilizing a new three-year time horizon (2013-2015) and based on an unprecedented mix of organizational material and data.  The resulting goals emphasizing safety certification, member relationships, long-term sustainability, and unified governance place IAAPA on a strategic footing well-suited to the future.

In the end, a global trade association is only as good as its people, programs, and plans.  These are the overall elements that provide members with a sense of constant value and forward movement, even as particular aspects of each area adapt to changing circumstances and fresh opportunities.  This is the essence of today’s IAAPA – an organization that constantly embraces new beginnings on many fronts while always maintaining its fundamental and historic strengths in a worldwide attractions industry positioned for continued growth.