The IAAPA Expo Europe event is a huge celebration of the leisure industry and the revolutionary products, services and innovations presented.

An annual event, this year it was Vienna who were the proud hosts with 12,289 verified attendees out of a total 13,545 registered including 8,475 qualified buyers representing 5,614 buying companies, and 633 exhibiting companies.

And a major feature of the show is the speeches presented throughout the event. The speeches take the form of education sessions, show floor, opening ceremony and a charity auction.

InterPark thanks Ewa Kwolek-Mazur, Manager, Marketing and Communications IAAPA EMEA for the information provided.

IAAPA confirmed that “the education conference included 169 speakers with women representing 30 percent of the panellists selected to participate. An all-female panel during Wednesday’s centrepiece CEO Talk gave in-depth expert insights from Natacha Rafalski, Présidente of Disneyland Paris; Amanda Thompson, OBE, ICAE, CEO of Blackpool Pleasure Beach; and Susanne Mørch Koch, CEO of Tivoli Gardens.”


During the event, various discussion were held on different topics. A social media talk was held on Tuesday to discuss how social media is driving visibility and profitability. A case in point is Avonturenpark Hellendoorn, which has around 450,000 visitors and has achieved 30 million views on TikTok.

Another topic discussed was queuing strategies. Although virtual queues, ride reservations, and fast passes are profitable, they can impact the guest experience. Guests have to schedule their days, which can take away their freedoms. Looking at smartphones all day can also break the spell for visitors.

The world of immersive interactivity is becoming more and more popular in the leisure industry. Immersive entertainment continues to grow with operators like Meow Wolf breaking new ground. Companies like Top Golf are using technology smartly. 

Sustainability of the industry was brought up in Vienna where industry companies more than ever need to be aware of create a sustainable footprint on society. Social sustainability is also important. Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg started an initiative to grant free entry to guests who couldn’t afford it. “It’s doing the right thing, and it paid off from an image and marketing point of view,” according to Jakob Wahl, President and CEO IAAPA.

Safety is the attractions industry’s number-one priority. Enhancing safety is a dynamic process. A panel of industry safety advocates at IAAPA Expo Europe believes the approach must also be holistic – it is not enough to focus on the technical side of safety; operators must also consider every variable.

At IAAPA Expo Europe 2023, a wide range of topics were discussed at the annual Leadership Breakfast. It’s no secret businesses worldwide have struggled to attract and retain motivated employees, attractions included. The discussion questioned how to attract the right people into an organization, and how can they be transformed into brand ambassadors.

Nora Lamac, managing director and co-owner of the Wiener Riesanrad, one of the oldest operating Ferris wheels in the world, located at Prater amusement park in Vienna, says she had to reevaluate herself. Lamac shared her experiences of being a fourth-generation owner and managing a family-owned company.

“For a long time, I thought I needed to be different or tougher in order to be a successful leader and to keep the Ferris wheel alive,” Lamac told attendees. This was the management style that her ancestors passed down from generation to generation. When the pandemic hit, Lamac took the opportunity to become a more authentic and kinder leader, rather than an authoritarian one. Because of this change of heart, the organization now has a flat hierarchy where everyone feels valued and part of the family.

François Fassier, vice president of leisure and destination at Compagnie des Alpes (CdA), operator of several European theme parks, spoke about the challenges of maintaining the same work culture across different countries. “Each park is unique, each product is unique, and each catchment area is unique,” says Fassier.

A host of topics and speeches were conducted in Vienna. On Tuesday, a discussion entitled

“Authenticity and Social Responsibility: How Good Business Pays Off” was held between 1 – 1:20 p.m. featuring Sebastian Drechsler, Miniatur Wunderland CMO and Andreas Andersen, CEO and President Liseberg. 

The same day another important topic shining a light on mental health took place with “Is Everything OK Backstage? Mental Health – An Open Discussion with Friends” between 1-2 pm with discussions from Owen Ralph, International Editor Kirmes & Park International, Miriam Mack, Head of Corporate Health Europa-Park GmbH & Co Mack KG, Olivia Wyrick, Director Water Theme Park Operations & Aquatics Six Flags Qiddiya, Chris Lange, Creative Director & Owner CSB – Creative Studio Berlin GmbH and Carlton Gajadhar, Excellence Manager Barker Langham Project Management.

Always an important reference for speeches at IAAPA is the CEO Talk with EDUSession which was from 2 – 3 p.m.

On Wednesday, IAAPA started brightly with a dynamic breakfast discussion to start the day with gusto. Entitled “Leadership Breakfast” from 8:30 – 10:30am, it was led by François Fassier, Vice President Leisure Park Destination Compagnie des Alpes, Christine Armstrong, Speaker GM, and Nora Lamac, General Manager Wiener Riesenrad.

Later on in the day, a discussion took place with “The Power of Strategic Investments: Why Invest in Themed Entertainment from 4:30 – 5:30pm with Emily Colombo VP, Strategic Sales Partnerships WhiteWater, Ben Thompson, Chief Strategy Officer Storyland Studios, David Nouaille, Chief International Development Officer Puy du Fou France, Simon Oaten, Partner Deloitte and Tyler Rizzo, Director of Strategy Storyland Studios

So, what was the overall message to come out from this particular IAAPA event?

Summarizing the exposition in Vienna. Andreas Veilstrup Andersen, group chief executive officer at Liseberg, told Jakob Wahl, IAAPA’s president and chief executive officer at IAAPA Expo Europe: “After the euphoric post-pandemic effect that saw many European attractions enjoying successful seasons in 2022, operators are navigating a new reality in 2023. “It feels a little like gravity has returned,” Although operators hoped the growth would continue, many see business returning to 2019 levels. “We have to adapt,” said Andersen.

Meanwhile, Peter van der Schans, executive director and vice president for IAAPA Europe, Middle East, and Africa, said: “Vienna has been a fantastic host city, providing the perfect backdrop for this milestone event. The support of our members, partners, and exhibitors has been instrumental in the success of IAAPA Expo Europe 2023, and we are grateful for their dedication to our industry.”

Images: IAAPA