The Liseberg Applause Award Celebrates its 40th Anniversary
The Liseberg Applause Award—one of the most prestigious awards in the amusement and theme park industry—has been presented to 19 parks worldwide in its 40-year history. The award’s aim is to recognize an amusement or theme park whose management, operations, and creative accomplishments have inspired the industry through leadership, foresight, originality, and sound business development.
The first winner of the Applause Award was Walt Disney Productions for Magic Kingdom Park, presented to Dick Nunis at IAAPA Expo in New Orleans in 1980. Since then, the Applause Award has been presented biennially at IAAPA Expo, and this year, the award will recognize its 20th winner in November at IAAPA Expo in Orlando.
The Applause Award’s Beginnings
The idea for the Applause Award was born in 1979 in a northern corner of Europe. Bo Kinntorph, then CEO of Sweden’s Liseberg amusement park, had spent a few years getting involved with IAAPA. Kinntorph became inspired to create a global award celebrating the best of the best in the amusement and theme park industry that would also encourage industry professionals.
Swedish sculptor Astri Bergman Taube crafted the Applause Award’s bronze statuette depicting two applauding hands, which has
come to symbolize the reverence and respect shown to winners by industry colleagues. In the years following the award program’s establishment, bylaws, qualification criteria, and a jury came together. In 1993, John Wood, chairman and CEO of Sally Dark Rides, joined the newly formed Board of Governors, the group responsible for visiting and judging the nominees to name the Applause Award winner.
“The award was so well received that it was determined it needed more structure, substance, and promotion if it was going to be successful,” Wood says. “Major suppliers to the industry were selected for the Board of Governors due to the fact that they were most familiar with the various parks in the industry.”
Andreas Andersen, CEO of Liseberg, became involved with the award in 2011 and is now on the Board of Governors. He says the judging and winner selection process entails a lot of time and curiosity.
“The Board of Governors always visits the nominees over a couple of days to see and experience the park but also to interview the management,” Andersen says. “It is amazingly interesting to get to know a new park—you always learn something.”
Wood says the connection between the Applause Award and IAAPA was initially a casual relationship formed through Kinntorph, who later became the first IAAPA chairman of the board from outside the United States. Award winners were announced during IAAPA’s annual meeting, and the tradition stuck to have the Applause Award presented every other year at IAAPA Expo’s Kickoff Event ever since. All nominees are required to be IAAPA members in good standing.
The Lasting Impact of the Applause Award
After Magic Kingdom Park’s win in 1980, three more American amusement and theme parks received the Applause Award. In 1990, Germany’s Europa-Park became the first European winner. In 2008, Xetulul in Guatemala was the first Latin American park to receive the award, and in 2012, Ocean Park Hong Kong was the first winner from the Asia-Pacific region.
With almost 20 Applause Award recipients over the last 40 years, there are several memorable moments from the award presentations, including in 2010 when country music legend Dolly Parton appeared on stage at IAAPA Expo to accept the award for Dollywood, the park that carries her name. When Mexico’s Xcaret Park won the 2018 Applause Award, Miguel Quintana Pali, CEO of Grupo Xcaret, was very surprised, saying, “I am not prepared. I knew we were nominated, but I didn’t bring my jacket and tie,” which made the audience laugh heartily. A little more prepared, but still taken aback, was Paul Beck, president of Efteling, which won the 1992 prize. “To win the Applause Award is the highest appreciation a park can achieve,” Beck said proudly from the stage as he
received the statue.
“Winners of the Applause Award are extremely proud of their achievement,” Wood says. “Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari built an entire replica of the award as a centerpiece of its courtyard; Hersheypark made special pins for everyone on its staff, as did Dollywood and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Others have proudly proclaimed on billboards and print materials that they were voted the best park in the world.”
For Andersen, it’s a privilege to visit parks around the world and experience the professionalism and creativity of the people working in the attractions industry.
“Where the award really can play a role is when it’s used to leverage employee pride in the parks they represent,” he says. “What the award celebrates is not just the parks that the guests experience—but the people creating these experiences.”
Applause Award Winners Through the Years
- 1980 Magic Kingdom Park
- 1982 Opryland
- 1986 Epcot
- 1988 Knott’s Berry Farm
- 1990 Europa-Park
- 1992 Efteling
- 1994 Universal Studios Florida
- 1996 Cedar Point
- 1998 Silver Dollar City
- 2000 Hersheypark
- 2002 Busch Gardens Williamsburg
- 2004 Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari
- 2006 Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- 2008 Xetulul
- 2010 Dollywood
- 2012 Ocean Park Hong Kong
- 2014 Puy du Fou
- 2016 Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
- 2018 Xcaret Park