Tim's Turn - January 2018


See the Expo Through Fresh Perspectives

I experienced my 30th IAAPA Attractions Expo this past November through two different sets of eyes.

The first set of different, updated eyes were my own—as a result of cataract surgery earlier in the year. I was once again amazed how colorful the exhibits really are! Surgery provided me with an amazing new perspective of the color spectrum. Reds were actually really red. And it was fun seeing that white is indeed a color, not varying shades of ivory! Anyone who has had similar surgery knows exactly what a difference I noticed. 

The second set of eyes were those of Sylvia Chong. I escorted the 17-year-old Singaporean, now in her last year of high school, through her first Expo. From the moment we stepped onto the trade show floor, her smile, her giggles, her sparkling eyes, and her questions showed me that all of this obviously was making an impression. To a (somewhat jaded) person who has seen all this 30 times, I was intrigued by her excitement. 

Sylvia experienced her first trip to the United States, visits to Orlando-area theme parks, and a walk through the Expo all as a result of her taking first place in a global contest the IAAPA Foundation and JA (Junior Achievement) Worldwide held over the summer. The Business of Fun contest challenged students ages 14-19 to test their entrepreneurial spirit through submission of innovations for improving the guest experience, with a goal to increase the appeal of attractions for both new and returning guests.

As a member of the foundation’s board of directors, I was a member of the panel that judged her well-presented idea, “A Token for a Queue,” the winner. Her idea lets guests place a simple, personalized token in line to hold one’s place for a ride instead of standing in line themselves, allowing them to roam the park and do other things while their token moves up in line. I liked her idea because it is simple, old-school, and does not depend on smartphones, special devices, or Wi-Fi coverage. 

As I walked around the Expo floor with Sylvia and her chaperone, Ng Hau Yee, director of Junior Achievement Singapore, I could see the delight in Sylvia’s eyes. “There is so much going on. I am amazed at the size of this Expo and the scope of exhibitors,” she told me. “I am still not sure what I want to do for a career in theme parks, but I can now see that my career opportunities are more diverse than I had thought.”

Born and raised in Singapore, she visits Universal Studios Singapore regularly and has visited Ocean Park in Hong Kong, which means she had never been exposed to wooden roller coasters; that changed when we stopped by the PTC booth and posed for photos in a wooden coaster car. She loves steel coasters, but once we explained how the ride experiences differ, she put wooden coasters on her bucket list. 

The mission of the IAAPA Foundation is to “inspire life-changing careers in the global attractions industry by cultivating tomorrow’s leaders.” It was obvious she was inspired, and it’s a pretty good bet that someday she could be a leader. Remember the name: Sylvia Chong. She’s now more determined than ever to dedicate her life to the attractions industry. 

Mission: Accomplished.

Tim O’Brien is a veteran industry journalist and former vice president of Ripley Entertainment. A longtime Funworld ­contributor, he is author of several books chronicling the industry’s ­attractions and personalities.