#1141 – Entertainment’s Pomp & Majesty – Part 5

The conclusion of our coverage of Europe’s biggest amusement, attractions, and entertainment expo, along with details of developments impacting the international scene. In this fifth part we look at the Bowling Scene and LBE developments at home and the UAE, Contactless ePayment, and the final conclusions from the show’s fallout. 

IAAPA Expo Europe 2022 (IAAPA-EMEA’22)

Bowling & Social Entertainment

Bowling was represented at IAAPA-EMEA’22 in one of the largest showings at a UK event, with representation from Brunswick Bowling and QubicaAMF, as well as IMPLY Bowling and Switch International. The appearance of string bowling machines on several booths showed the versatility of the hardware for venues of all sizes. The move to competitive socializing can trace its roots to bowling and league and tournament play, but recently bowling venues in Europe and the UK have seen increased investment and inclusion in the hospitality mix for social entertainment. At the same time as IAAPA, London saw the opening of the largest pub in the capital run by chain BrewDog, and at the heart of this new venue in Waterloo is a string bowling installation.   

Regarding the international amusement scene concerning the bowling industry, and the news came just as IAAPA-EMEA was opening that, in the States, Bowlero Corp (leading operator and owners of the ‘Bowlero’, ‘Bowlmor Lanes’, ‘Bowl America’, and ‘AMF’ entertainment center chains), had completed the acquisition of three more bowling centers, under the ‘Mel’s Lone Star Lane’ in Texas, as well as the ‘Fiesta Bowl’ and ‘Spanish Springs Lanes’ brands in Florida. These venues will be integrated into the expanding Bowlero corporate footprint in North America, which already comprises some 300 bowling centers in the USA. The operation has restructured business recently, seeing in 2020 the merging of their ‘Brunswick Zone’ chain into their ‘Bowlero’ and ‘AMF’ chains. At the same time, growing their reach in 2019 by acquiring the Professional Bowling Association (PBA), continuing its partnership with FOX Sports, bringing the sport to millions of fans. The operation is looking to expand its reach and include a greater entertainment mix in their existing venues. 

The investment into entertainment playing a more prominent part in the bowling scene was also illustrated with the news of the new investment by Lucky Strike. The company announced the opening of their ‘FTW’ (For The Win) adult-focused amusement addition to their facility chain, seeing the first venue open in Denver at their 16th Street Mall location in the city. The ‘FTW’ amusement space comprises some 200 different attractions, with redemption, videmption, video amusement and prize machines, covering a 15,000sq.ft. location within the existing ‘Lucky Strike Denver Pavilion’ site. This first example of their “Bowl-tainment” inclusion to the chain is hoped to be the start of a dedicated rollout of this amusement mix into the chain’s operation, based on the feedback generated. 

UAE Entertainment Developments

The IAAPA European Expo catchment also includes the Northern African and Middle East territories and, at the same time as the event, several new developments were announced from this sector. Soon after The Stinger Report’s visit to the UAE and Saudi area for the eSports and entertainment convention, news was revealed that one of those companies that some observers had written off during the Global Health Crisis, continued its meteoric growth following the end of the cycle. Dave&Busters’ announced their international expansion plans, in a franchise partnership with Abdul Mohsen Al Hokair Holding Group. Some 11 new D&B sites will be opening in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, followed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. These international plans had been rumored some time back, but with continuing strong revenue numbers (seeing a record sixty-percent increase in amusement earning against post-COVID numbers). This new move towards expansion have taken on a new impetus since acquiring the Main Event chain. 

At the same time, it was announced that the immersive entertainment operation, Dreamscape Immersion, has opened in the Saudi capital in the Riyadh Park Mall their latest immersive entertainment venue. The free-roaming and free-flying VR experience platform had previously opened a Dubai venue, but this marketed the first Saudi Arabian location developed in partnership with Majid Al-Futtaim and opened as another entertainment brand alongside their ‘Yalla! Bowling’, ‘VOX Cinema’ and ‘Magic Planet’ offerings. For Dreamscape, this new operation will sit alongside their Geneva, Las Angeles, Dallas, Ohio, New Jersey, and Dubai sites. The company has also partnered with AMC Entertainment to place their VR experience in selected cinema lobbies.

Speaking of the UAE market and one of the largest and most publicised VR entertainment venues was ‘VR Park Dubai’ – the venue, located in the Dubai Mall, had originally opened in 2018 to much fanfare, with a selection of specially developed VR attractions created by Starbreeze, in partnership with Emaar Entertainment. But after poor audience reaction, these attractions were hurriedly removed and replaced with a selection of off-the-shelf VR amusement pieces. Now it was revealed that the venue had undergone a name change to ‘PLAY DXB’ and will be pivoting more towards an amusement and immersive entertainment offering, as a “indoor playpark”.  

Frictionless & Connected 

The deployment of “Frictionless” technology and customer services, including the first appearances of Web3 methodology, was seen at IAAPA London. The impact of ePayment and cashless systems on the FEC, attraction and resort sectors has been momentous and that was reflected at the show. Intercard used IAAPA-EMEA’22 to launch their first-of-its-kind ‘Impulse’ hybrid card reader that accepts credit cards, along with play cards. Meanwhile, Sacoa partnered with SAI for the EMEA region, parts, and services division – Sega Total Solutions (STS), supporting the effort by Sacoa, which has installed their platform in some 2,000 locations. EMBED also exhibited at the show, with a plethora of their swipe payment, kiosk support and contactless solutions for the modern FEC and amusement operator. Semnox Solutions and Sacoa Cashless also took booths to present. Also represented at the trade event were Nayax, through their Tigapo operation, supporting the latest contactless payment solutions, looking at greater acceptance of payment apps (such as PayPal, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay, MobilePay, Twint, WeChat Pay, and Alipay – to name a few).  

One aspect of frictionless, is also the ability to track and customise the guests’ experience and ticketing and payment options. The new generation of point-of-sale and customer engagement software packages may be hidden back-of-house but are now becoming a fundamental aspect for profitable operation. Several providers of such systems took to the London show floor to present the latest developments – developer Connect&GO showed an integrated system with impressive features and customization options, for example. Another all-in-one provider was BMI Leisure, who showed their latest updates and innovation to their platform, celebrating some 22-years in the industry, constantly refining their offering. accessor and ROLLER also took booths at the show. 

Final Observations

In conclusion of the IAAPA-EMEA’22 event, the show organizers stated over the three-day trade show, that they hosted 11,474 registered attendees coming to see sone 550 exhibitors. The show organizers candidly stated that the London show represented the best attendance they had seen since the record-breaking Paris IAAPA EMEA in 2018 – and stated it was 30-percent up on IAAPA EMEA 2021 (Spain). However, at the time of going to press, no information was available on the attendance at the various seminars and conferences held during the London show.

Much has happened since the last time IAAPA EMEA made London landfall, back in 2011, and major situations continued to dog the UK gathering. The aborted London holding of the show in 2020 (due to COVID) was one aspect, but just days before the show, the UK suffered the loss of its monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, throwing the country into mourning. The show’s organizers continued plans to hold the event, with due respect for the period of mourning. 

IAAPA-EMA’22 became the first major London trade show to benefit from the opening, only a few months previously, of the train line that carries the late Queen’s name (the Elizabeth Line) – a new trainline that now offers a considerably speedier connection between the center of the capital and the exhibition hub in Docklands. The ExCel venue had been criticized for its remoteness and the price gouging of local taxi firms for attendees. The completion of the new line (expecting to serve some 200m passengers a year) offers not just direct links to central London but also to Heathrow Airport for international attendees (even though the ExCel venue is adjacent to its own Docklands Airport). This new service proved vital in supporting the various events and mixers held in support of the expo, now able to connect the isolated docklands to the heart of the city.

A snapshot of the events held off the exhibition floor included the IAAPA reception at the Docklands Museum, and the breath-taking TEA Party. The TEA Europe team excelled themselves with an amazing trip up the river Thames, brought wondrously to life by the illumination of the bridges and capital marking the tributes to the funeral of the Queen. This was a once in a lifetime moment that will live with many of the event guests forever (even a hardened Londoner like our publisher).

As with all physical trade events, the talk shared around the bars and tables of the various after-show mixers proved valuable in charting the temperature and trends of the industry, especially at a difficult time in the face of growing global financial difficulties. Areas of special interest that were seen during the event included:

Supply Chain Issues

Several exhibitors saw their hopes to ship booth equipment scuppered by difficulties, many of these ranging in a logjam in logistic chains, but also complications with customs and shipping regulations. This was not helped by the impact of the international developments. One of the biggest absences from the IAAPA-EMEA show floor was Chinese suppliers, with only a handful attending the London event. This also included concerns regarding the viability of Chinese products – if they could be supplied and serviced effectively.

Impact of the Ukrainian Conflict

While the trade associations made no open reference to the ongoing conflict, the absence of the Russian and affiliated exhibitor members was more that glaring, along with the signs of solidarity worn on the lapels and as badges of attendees. The lack of an official positional statement comes as concerning, although the need not to take a position seems to be the stance of many associations which include Russian based membership. The Russian Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (RAAPA) revealed their plans to hold their “international” trade show in October after IAAPA-EMA’22, being the 16th anniversary for their Moscow-based event, athough at this time only 40 Russia-based exhibitors had taken space (although some agents represented Western brands). It is hoped by the time of IAAPA Orlando that an official statement on the trade’s position regarding the situation can be made.

The Italian Job!

Several VR machine manufacturers exhibiting at IAAPA London made a point, during conversations at the show, to observe a weird scenario they were experiencing. Multiple exhibitors had seen great sales achieved during the show, and many of them were from visiting Italian operators. They were surprised at seeing multiple sales from this territory and asked what the situation was that was seeing Italy being so hot for its technology.

We were able to speak with one of our close friends who is a well-known Italian amusement distributor, and he revealed that the main reason for this sudden peak in interest for attractions was due to recent legislation that impacted the operation of conventional redemption and video amusement. With this near blockade by Italian government, operators were desperately turning to alternative amusement attractions to place in their venues. VR is one of the attractions benefiting from the amusement association’s inability to address this situation. 

That concludes our extensive coverage of one of the most important amusement and attraction trade events of the last few months (if not years). It was revealed that IAAPA EMEA 2023 will be moving to Vienna, Austria (September 25-28), marking an interesting return to Central Europe. For the remainder of 2022, all eyes now turn to preparation for what will be an equally important IAAPA USA event, in November. That said, for the European amusement trade, there is still the Autumn Coin-Op Show (ACOS), which will be held in October in London, as more of a local amusement and gaming event. Also, there is the Brand Licensing Europe (BLE) in London, where several LBE and attraction developments are expected – so there should still be much of interest which we will report back from soon.

About the author

Kevin Williams

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The brainchild of two location-based experience enthusiasts, Christine Buhr and Brandon Willey, the LBX Collective aims to inform and educate, create opportunities to connect with industry peers, and to spur collaboration, discourse, and cross-pollination of ideas.

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