The Art of Attractions | Longing for Near-Life Experiences
As with nearly everything during the pandemic, the annual IAAPA Expo was markedly different this past November. There was no exhibit hall buzzing with whirling rides and infectious energy. There were no in-person meetups to reconvene with friends and associates. But, thankfully, there was the IAAPA Expo | Virtual Education Conference filled with compelling sessions and speakers.
I especially enjoyed the keynote presentation from Andreas Andersen, president and CEO of Liseberg and a past IAAPA chairman. His topic, “Changing Attractions Change the World” (“Or is it the other way around?” he quipped), seemed especially relevant during a time of such challenges and upheaval.
Speaking from the Liseberg Theater, Andersen said that the nearly 100-year-old park, like the industry itself, is constantly evolving and reinventing itself. But, he noted, the rate of change continues to accelerate and is now exponential. Andersen touched on technical changes and disruptive digital developments and discussed ways parks and attractions have leveraged technology to assuage queuing and address other issues.
But he warned that it’s easy to get lost in technology and other details and lose sight of what the industry is truly about. “What we are selling is not what the customer is buying. It’s not admission tickets, ice cream, or stuffed animals,” Andersen said. “It’s really expectations, experiences, memories, and emotions.”
And, he stressed, in an increasingly digital world, parks and attractions provide a very analog retreat. (Never mind the cognitive dissonance of watching Andersen say this during a virtual presentation on my computer.) Visitors, he noted, long for social experiences in real life. “You feel the wind in your hair, the sense of weightlessness, the smell of freshly baked waffles,” he shared. But it was what Andersen said next that really resonated with me: “What we provide with our coasters and thrill rides is not a near-death-experience. It is, in fact, the opposite. It’s a near-life experience.”
How true. Racing headlong down a first drop, feeling the giddy sensation of airtime, and watching the horizon spin during an inversion, there is no way to be anything but fully present. There are no mortgages, no looming deadlines, no—dare I say—worldwide pandemic. There is just you and your park mates and the unbridled joy and exhilaration you get to share together in the moment.
It’s critical to keep pace with change, as Andreas implores. But it’s equally critical to recognize the authentic and wholly unique experiences your parks and attractions provide to people who crave them. That, the Liseberg leader says, “is strong enough to take us into the next centennial.”
I’ll see you at the parks. I’ll be the one squealing in delight aboard a coaster and joyously embracing life.
A lifelong park fanatic, Arthur Levine has been writing newspaper and magazine travel features about the industry he loves since 1992. He’s been the Theme Parks Expert at TripSavvy.com (formerly About.com) since 2002, and is a regular contributor for USA Today.