Keynote Address, Charlie Bray

Keynote Address, Charlie Bray, President and CEO of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, at the Florida Attractions Association Annual Conference and 60th Anniversary Celebration, Thursday, May 28, 2009 in Sarasota, Florida, USA.


Introduction – Thank you and Congratulations

Thank you for that warm welcome. And thank you Mark, for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be with you today and to be a part of the Florida Attractions Association 60th Annual Conference and Trade Show. I would also like to thank Kenny Communications and all of the sponsors that helped make this event possible.

Congratulations on 60 great years. Think about all that has occurred since 1949. Our industry has not only survived, it continues to thrive. That sustainability is a testament to the resilient nature of the industry, and to the innovation and adaptability of each of you. And it is a tribute to the Florida Attractions Association that has served you so well here in Florida all those years. As attractions owners, operators, manufacturers, and suppliers, you are the brains and the brawn that keep us moving forward, so thank you and again congratulations.

It is great to be here. This is my first visit to Sarasota and it has been an enjoyable time. My first trip to Florida was back in 1973. Whether it was personal visits to my family place in Boynton Beach or professional for association conferences, I have visited Florida many times and there have always been great attractions at every location I have visited. That is why Florida is such a popular destination for professional meetings!

So it is wonderful to be with you in Florida, and to be here surrounded by many familiar faces. The Florida Attractions Association has a great leader in Bill Lupfer. IAAPA can always count on Bill for his insight and support. I know our government relations team greatly appreciates the information and advice he provides. So, Bill, thank you. 

When I arrived here this week, IAAPA had 403 members from Florida. Only one other state, California, had more at 404. Good news, I was informed that just yesterday an IAAPA member at this conference became the 404th Florida member. So I just need to entice one more non-member to join and push Florida over the top. I plan to speak as long as it takes for at least one of you to sign up! All kidding aside, we greatly appreciate your support.

Overview of IAAPA

Now for a short IAAPA overview: IAAPA strives every day to be regarded as an indispensable resource to the more than 4,000 member companies we serve. All of you have busy schedules, yet you choose to be here. That tells me as members of the Florida Attractions Association, you understand the value of an association. Whether it is the FAA or IAAPA, the success of an association is not possible without active participation of its members. Partnership and teamwork are central to IAAPA’s vision, and to our strength as an association, and the success of our industry.

IAAPA was formed in 1918 out of a common need to protect the industry from unjust legislation and promote its interests. As the industry changed over the last 91 years, so has IAAPA which now promotes safe operations, global development, professional growth, and commercial success of the attractions industry. Today, our member facilities include; amusement parks, theme parks, waterparks, family entertainment centers, zoos, aquariums, museums, science centers, resorts and casinos.

Whether it is to educate the public, elected officials, the media, or our members, IAAPA is the leading industry advocate worldwide.

Our signature events are our Expos. With members in 90 countries, IAAPA is the global leader when it comes to promoting and connecting people within the industry. We hold three trade shows which help foster open and constant communication between owners, operators, manufacturers and suppliers. The Asian Attractions Expo and the Euro Attractions Show are each the number one trade show for the industry in their respective regions, and the IAAPA Attractions Expo is the number one trade show for the industry worldwide.

Despite economic challenges, manufacturers and suppliers have made the decision to invest in their future by exhibiting on a million-square-foot trade show floor at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009 in Las Vegas November 16-20. As many of you know we will rotate the trade show between Las Vegas and Orlando over the next several years. Orlando has always been good to us and we look forward to our return in November of 2010, but this rotation will allow our many west coast and Asian members the ability to more fully participate.

Industry Outlook and Trends

Next, I promise to be brief, but I would like to spend a few minutes on the outlook and trends for our industry for 2009 and beyond. As we plan our trade shows and promote the industry, IAAPA continues to monitor global economic conditions. As with most businesses, the sluggish economy has created a level of uncertainty within our industry. Historically the industry has weathered changes in the economy well, and there is reason to be cautiously optimistic. Looking at our industry globally, we are hearing some very positive early results. We held our own in 2008 with numbers similar to 2007, which were strong – 341 million people at our 400 parks. Early numbers for 2009 indicate record spring break and opening day business at many parks in the United States and Europe. And we still see a lot of growth throughout Asia with expansion of existing attractions and new attractions being built. In many respects Asia is a phenomenal emerging market. There is now a growing middle class with discretionary dollars to spend on family fun and entertainment.

The one region of the world that is of real concern is the Middle East. Once a booming market with lots of planned attractions, it has been dramatically impacted by the slowdown in the economy. Some believe the growth planned in the Middle East was too ambitious to sustain. Whether that is true or not, recent events indicate that the rate of growth was too much for the current economic conditions. Those that are able to remain and those that we see emerging in the Middle East now are probably better positioned to survive long-term.

Here in the U.S. I am encouraged to know that millions of dollars continue to be invested throughout the industry. This season there is something new for all ages -- from giant steel and wooden coasters, to record-breaking water rides, dedicated children’s play areas, and great new live shows, special events and concerts. We see the on-going development of interactive experiences that change based on guest involvement, like choosing a soundtrack to accompany the ride, water battles with other riders, or even performing live on stage. Our guests want to go someplace where the experience will meet their expectations…and we deliver!

A new trend that has begun to emerge is the creation of more holistic experiences for guests. In fact, there are several of these products débuting right here in Florida this year. From the minute the guest enters the gate, or the queue, to the second they leave, every aspect of the experience engages them in some manner.

The bottom line is in any economy our success depends on developing compelling experiences that keep guests coming back again and again. We understand that people want to spend quality time with friends and family – maybe now more than ever – and while they may want to stay close to home with ‘staycations,’ they will still go to a park or an attraction. Our industry has responded with new value added promotions and discount offers, package deals, and enhanced marketing efforts to drive the business. Attractions operators are very creative and have always adjusted their product and offerings to address changes in the economy.

Legislative Update

While the economy is understandably at the forefront of all of our minds, IAAPA has also been monitoring how recent changes in Washington, D.C. will impact our industry.

President Barack Obama and the new Congress have had a busy first 100 days. As predicted, boosting the economy has been the primary focus, with bail-out bills, stimulus bills and the appropriations bill consuming much of the debate. This summer, attention will turn to energy and climate change legislation and healthcare reform. IAAPA has and will continue to monitor these major policy reforms and alert members when provisions that could impact the attractions industry arise. No matter what your politics; things are and will be very different over these next four years with the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress and the White House.

On issues more specific to the attractions industry, we’ve also had a busy first six months of the year. In Florida, we’ve worked with Bill Lupfer and the Florida Attractions Association on parental authority legislation and on new regulations for fencing and operators on go-kart tracks and in waterparks. I can not stress enough how important it is to have member involvement at the state level. It is very important to be aware of all the issues, not just those specific to tourism, but also labor and employment issues.

There are several issues on the federal level that impact you. We’ve focused on lobbying against the Employee Free Choice Act, more commonly known as ‘Card Check,’ a bill that would deprive workers of private balloting in labor union organizing elections, and would substitute a signature-card process that would expose workers to coercion. The bill would also deny workers the right to ratify, or not ratify, labor contracts drafted by government arbitrators when negotiations in newly unionized workplaces exceed the bill's rigid timetable. IAAPA has members who are unionized. Our opposition to the legislation is not about being for or against unionization; it is about letting employees choose in the safe privacy of a voting booth without fear of repercussion.

We were encouraged two months ago when Senator Arlen Specter, from Pennsylvania, who was thought to be the swing vote on the legislation in the Senate, announced he would not vote in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act. Since that time Senator Specter has switched from the Republican party to the Democratic party and there has been some concern that his decision to join the Democrat party may affect his position on this issue. Regardless of Senator Specter’s position, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa recently announced that he intends to move forward with consideration of the bill in June.

Another federal issue that is at the front of our minds in the attractions industry is the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines or ADAAG. As you may remember, these are guidelines for making public places accessible to guests with disabilities. Currently they are just guidelines and should be followed in new construction or when major renovations are made. However, once they are adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice, they become law and facility owners and operators must comply with them.

Almost immediately after taking office, President Obama’s chief of staff, former Congressman Rahm Emanuel, released a memorandum directing executive branch agencies to defer publication of any new regulations until they are reviewed and approved by officials appointed by the Obama Administration.

Sometimes policy has wonderful intentions but once put into practice presents unforeseen negative consequences. The Consumer Product Safety Improvements Act and the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, which I will discuss in a moment, are two examples of such legislation.

Although passed by Congress last August, the Consumer Product Safety Improvements Act still changes on an almost-daily basis and in some areas these changes are complete reversals of previously stated interpretations. IAAPA has kept members informed of the frequent developments in this area through publications, a webinar and a Toy Safety page on our website.

We support Congressman Joe Barton of Texas’s bill, which would provide some relief to businesses that are trying to comply with the CPSIA. However it is unlikely we will see any legislative fix to the Act this year.

The December 19, 2008 effective date of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act passed with few pools being forced to shut down despite a very limited supply of drains on the market. A team of technical experts from IAAPA and the World Waterpark Association created and distributed a compliance program that included the option of having engineers certify drains as meeting the requirements of the Act.

Larger drain covers are coming onto the market. Our hope at the end of the year was that seasonal waterparks would be able to get the covers and have them installed and tested before they open for the summer. We have now seen that some public pools are opening late as a result of the limited availability of the new covers.

As predicted, Congressman Markey, of Massachusetts, re-introduced his legislation, H.R. 2514, to place fixed-site amusement rides under the jurisdiction of the CPSC last week. The Congressman has consistently introduced this legislation every two years for a decade. There's no evidence that Federal oversight would improve the already outstanding safety record of the industry and it could cost taxpayers millions to try. It makes no sense to dedicate over-stretched federal dollars to what is already a thorough and capable regulatory process. There are 1.8 billion safely given rides each year and the chance of serious injury, requiring a visit to a medical facility, is one in 9 million.

The Energy and Commerce committee, which has jurisdiction over the CPSC also has jurisdiction over energy and healthcare issues so the committee will have a full calendar this year. However, since Congressman Markey is an active member of the Energy and Commerce committee, we do not expecta busy scheduletoimpair Markey's abilityto garner support, or even a potential hearing for this legislation.

IAAPArecentlyvisited members of the Commerce, Trade and Consumer ProtectionSubcommittee to educate them on theindustry’s safety record and will continue to do so asnecessary.

Conclusion – Innovation and Optimism

So, while the economy is struggling and there are concerns regarding legislation and regulation, these are exciting times for the industry.

I am encouraged by the fact that as technology advances so does our industry. We tend to be at the front of new technology and plan ahead with forward thinking. Walt Disney once said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Innovation is a key part of the overall success of our industry because without it we become stagnant and stale. An ongoing challenge is to find ways to constantly engage our guests. Some attractions engage guests at the park through text messages about ride times and promotional opportunities. Many guests will visit an attraction’s web site first, so operators can begin to shape a guests experience before they even arrive. And today, guests will send pictures to family, text messages to friends, and post tweets on twitter for countless followers to read all from their phone in the middle of their visit. When they get home they will post pictures to their Facebook page and blog about the experience for all to read. Those are the memories we create and that is what keeps our guests coming back for more.

So be optimistic - we are headed in the right direction. And remember times of hardship often yield great ideas. Prosperity breed mediocrity, but adversity reveals genius, so keep your eyes and ears open to new ideas and new possibilities because the best way to keep our customers happy is to keep the industry fresh and relevant.

Again, thank you for all the work you do within the industry and thank you for the opportunity to join you in celebrating 60 years of success.