By Dennis Speigel

Continuing his series of articles on the attractions industry, International Theme Park Services (ITPS) president Dennis Speigel looks at the growth and development of IAAPA as the global trade association celebrates its 100th anniversary

Past IAAPA executive director John Graff (left) with Speigel and Mats Wedin from Liseberg, Sweden


AS we know, IAAPA celebrates its centennial this year in Orlando. I am proud to say that I have been an active member of the IAAPA for 49 of its 100 years. Allow me to cheat a little and say half of its existence!

I have seen many changes in our global association. I helped instigate and guide some of our industry programmes that continue to flourish today. One of these was helping to actually change the complexion of IAAPA from an association that was international in name only. In reality, back in the 70s and 80s, it was a domestic American association. While we had quite a few members in Europe, the international players did not have representation at the table. As I look back 35 years ago, we had less than five international operators on our board of directors. A few of us officers vowed to change this xenophobic attitude of the organisation from an international association in name only to a true and fully represented international, global association. It wasn’t easy. We younger board members and officers at the time had to change the older board members’ and officers’ minds. The changes began around 30 years ago and continue to this day.  Today, we are truly international.

Speigel with Ren Aziz in Mexico

Just to give you some additional perspective, when I was president of IAAPA (1989-1990), I reached out internationally and we brought Russia, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Mexico and China into IAAPA. Japan and Germany had small, independent associations of their own, while Brazil and Mexico were just getting started. As president of IAAPA and on behalf of the association, I travelled with John Graff, then executive director, to each of these countries and pledged to them IAAPA’s support to help them grow their independent association while bringing them into IAAPA. I promised them moral support as well as educational and instructive support. I told them we would not put money into their coffers, but we would help nurture each country’s association’s growth until they could stand on their own. And we did. The IAAPA provided that early support for all of these countries and associations, which was the catalyst that really helped launch our international membership growth, as well as our general membership growth overall. Just one of many stories that moved our association’s growth forward to the level it is today.

When I began as a young member, the name of the association was IAAP.  The last “A” was added in 1972 when we included the word “attractions.” As I said, we were an international association in name, but really an American association and administered in that manner. It took 20 years for IAAPA to name its first international president, Bo Kinntorph of Liseberg park in Sweden. I was pleased to be a part of the selection of Bo for this prestigious honour. That move “cracked the ceiling” for other international operators to follow and was a major breakthrough that also helped move IAAPA forward to its global status.

Looking back further during my early high involvement with the association, I was part of the movement to change the name to the IAAPA, helped fund and guide Funworld magazine, led the purchase of our Alexandria headquarters to build association equity, appointed the first international council to meet the needs of the growing global membership, recommended to the IAAPA the creation of the Hall of Fame, participated in nominating our first international president and recommended adding the first sales representative to the IAAPA board. And something I remain extra proud of today – I set up the IAAPA Amusement Industry Programme for Senior Management at Cornell University (now known as the Institute of Executive Education and later moved to San Diego University), for which I wrote the programme’s first syllabus and glossary.

Through my many years of being active in the IAAPA, I have worked with seven executive directors and presidents, including Bob Blundred, John Graff, Bret Lovejoy, Clark Robinson, Charlie Bray, Chip Cleary, Paul Noland and now our newest president, Hal McEvoy.

IAAPA members on a visit to China in 1986

As the association has grown, so has our leadership. For an association, leaders who rotate through the officer chairs and committee chairs have to allow for “new timber” to be found, nurtured, taught, grown and instituted. New ideas from new officers and committee members have always been the “life blood” of our association. Recently, I have been told our requests for new members of the board of directors and committees has not received as good a response as we would like to see or expect from our global industry. It is incumbent upon our member parks and suppliers to bring on new talent to help steward our association and industry. When we are out of talent and ideas, we are out of business.

As we move into our next 100 years, it is now incumbent upon Hal McEvoy to lead. He will be required to “part the waters,” leading IAAPA in building new leadership at all levels. Here, here to Hal McEvoy in his new leadership role and to our grand ole’ dame, IAAPA. Happy 100!



Dennis Speigel is president of International Theme Park Services (ITPS), based in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, and has over 50 years of experience in the theme park and leisure industry. Since its inception in 1983 ITPS has worked on over 500 projects in 50 countries and is uniquely qualified to assist in all aspects of entertainment project development.

Dennis Speigel