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Published On: Thu, May 13th, 2021

2021 IAAPA Virtual Conference Focuses on Recovery and Resilience

IAAPA Presenters Explore How the Attractions Industry Can Adopt a Mindset of Resilience and Recovery to Resume Success in a Post-COVID World 

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) hosted its 2021 Conference on April 7-8. The event focused on the recovery of the attractions industry in a post-COVID environment. Hosting the two-day conference was Johnathan Lee Iverson, showman and former ringmaster for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The forum utilized a virtual platform to accommodate restrictions and safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Professionals from the industry gathered together to share their stories of resilience and recovery through this challenging time. 

IAAPA is the premier trade association for the diverse and ever-changing attractions industry. In addition to hosting global events and conferences “that spread successful ideas and practices,” the organization provides valuable tools and training for industry professionals, including workshops, on-site seminars, videotapes, manuals, and webinars. 

IAAPA Virtual Conference Themes

Each day of the conference focused on a different perspective. The first day’s presenters discussed recovery planning. Experts shared their solutions for safe yet profitable operations in a COVID environment, while a top economist explored valuable forecasts. Day two focused on actual recovery. Presenters discussed how industry professionals could overcome significant obstacles presented by the pandemic and reviewed strategies for managing their workforces during uncertain times. 

photo/Gerd Altmann

Insights from Keynote Speakers

The conference featured several speakers and panelists who talked about resilience and recovery efforts within the attractions industry. 

On day one, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Interim CEO Marc Swanson spoke on “Navigating the COVID-19 Crisis.” In his 30-minute speech, Swanson shared how his organization has confronted the industry’s “new operating reality with urgency, flexibility, and creativity” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Swanson remarked that SeaWorld “has worked collaboratively with streamlined and efficient decision-making to maximize its financial flexibility, adapt operations, and prioritize health and safety.”

Contributing to the company’s success has been the collaborative efforts of the management team and Board members, including the Founder and Managing Partner of Hill Path Capital and SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, Scott Ross. Swanson added, “Our partnership with our Chairman and our other Board Members [has] allowed our company to adjust and move forward with more creativity and nimbleness than we had before.” He continued, “Having a large investor on the Board allows us to align our goals and move even more confidently and decisively. We [are] all in this together, and having our leadership team and board in constant communication certainly [has] allowed us to address this crisis head-on.”

Participants Offer Industry Insights

Day one opened with a keynote presentation titled “Preparing for the Recovery.” Led by Adam Sacks, president of the Oxford Economics Company, the presentation focused on traveler sentiment data and how it can be leveraged to create short-term goals. Keith James, owner and CEO of JRA, hosted a dynamic M&S Solution Talks session, where industry experts shared their experiences related to how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their businesses.

Further inviting industry collaboration and conversation, a panel discussion titled “Safety First, Fun Second: How the Attractions Industry is adapting to a COVID World” was hosted by Linda Freeman, entertainment industry specialist for Rockwell Automation. Panelists for this discussion included Anthony Palermo, co-founder of Connect&GO, Dr. Marc Allan Tack, D.O. of infectious disease and internal medicine, and Jason Freeman, corporate vice president of security, safety, health & environmental for Six Flags Entertainment Corporation.

Adapting to New Environments

The tone of day two shifted toward resilience as industry leaders discussed how companies have adapted to this new environment. Bernie Campbell, ICAE, Whirley-Drinkworks!, moderated a panel of Typhoon Texas leaders who discussed the “adaptations and learnings their food and beverage teams encountered as they battled the disruptions caused by COVID-19.” Panelists included Evan Barnett, president; Walter Teem, director of revenue (Houston); and Cade Vereen, director of revenue (Austin). Participants shared their plans to continue meeting these challenges and exiting the pandemic even stronger.

Day two also welcomed a keynote presentation titled “The Power of Human Connection.” This thought-provoking presentation was hosted by Leon Logothetis, global adventurer, motivational speaker, and author/creator of the book and Netflix show The Kindness Diaries. Logothetis focused on sharing his experiences to inspire participants to “learn how to ignite a spark of love, adventure, and humanity within your messaging and expand your global awareness.”

Author: Emma Davidson

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