IAAPA’s incoming chair has deep roots in the attractions industry
interview by Chris Lange
ABOVE: ICON roller coaster. Courtesy Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
During IAAPA Expo, Nov 2019 in Orlando, Amanda Thompson will become IAAPA chair of the board of directors for 2020. She will be the third woman in over 100 years to lead the association and the first woman from Europe to hold that position. Her father, Geoffrey Thompson, was IAAPA chair in 1996. She will replace outgoing chair David Rosenberg of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Ms. Thompson started in the industry at a young age. Her family owns and operates Blackpool Pleasure Beach, which was started by her great-grandfather, Willliam George Bean. Today she is the park’s managing director; her brother, Nick Thompson, serves as deputy managing director. In addition, Thompson founded Stageworks Worldwide Productions, an entertainment production company with shows around the world.
InPark asked park and attraction designer Chris Lange to talk with Thompson about her involvement in the industry, IAAPA and her love for attractions.
What was your childhood like growing up connected to an amusement park?
My father was focused on operating the park so my siblings and I weren’t at the park as often as you might think, when we were young. When we did go to the park, it was a wonderful treat.
As a child, I really wanted a pony, and when I was seven, my grandfather allowed me to work on the pony rides for several weeks. I cleaned them, I fed them, I did all the work required to care for a pony, so by the time I went back to school I knew how to look after one. On my next birthday, my grandfather said I could have a pony. My mother went mad when one appeared on the doorstep. Thankfully, there was a farmer’s field nearby and the farmer let us keep it there.
What is your favorite attraction and show in your park (Blackpool Pleasure Beach)?
My favorite ride in the park is ICON, our new Mack Rides double-launching coaster. But the ones I like to ride the most often are our dark ride Alice in Wonderland and the Steeplechase coaster. I have had many favorite shows over the years including Eclipse, Mystique and Hot Ice, though I also enjoy our Christmas show in the Paradise Room in the winter.
How did you get involved in IAAPA?
I first got involved with IAAPA when I was about 18 years old, when I attended trade shows with my father. From the age of 22 I had a stand at the trade shows for Stageworks Worldwide Productions.
What goals have you set for yourself during your year as chairperson?
I have quite a few:
• To make a difference with sustainability and get the world to understand how relevant that is to our industry
• To keep everyone informed of the global aspirations of IAAPA
• To understand how relevant and important the manufacturers and suppliers are to our association
• To understand as well that members come first and that is the priority of the association
What role does diversity have within IAAPA and the industry?
I always have supported diversity in our industry. It is a very male-dominated field. Women in this industry sometimes have to be seen to be twice as good as a man and that is something that needs to be challenged.
We have a shared responsibility to make sure that everyone understands how important our industry is and how many different areas it covers in the world of business. You can work in catering, hospitality, engineering, as a creative person, as an accountant, and so on. You can work in any field that you would like to choose within our industry and there is something to suit everybody. The great thing about our industry is that it’s always evolving, always changing, always developing.
What is the biggest difference between the European and American industry?
At a basic level there are no differences between European and American parks because they both provide visitors with rides, attractions, fun, shows. This is often the way I like to look at it. My impression from speaking to many people within the industry is that they encounter many similar challenges and experiences. I don’t think Europe perceives itself to be any different to the American industry, nor to the Asian and South American part of the industry, for that matter. We are all part of one global industry.
Would you agree that in Europe we use less IP on our attractions and rather develop our own stories?
No. I think that it’s just a trend at the moment to use IPs. I don’t think that as a region we use more or less IPs, it just depends on the park. At Blackpool Pleasure Beach we use IP we own but we also license IP from others, such as Nickelodeon, Wallace and Gromit and Red Arrows.
There are many different types of IPs and sponsorship deals available and they all add a different type of dimension to the park and industry. I really don’t think it matters whether you have your own IPs or whether you license an IP. As more people consume media from various sources, that seems to influence parks to go the route of licensing as of late. But it might just be a passing phase.
How did the opening of your new Boulevard Hotel change your business? Are you planning more hospitality projects?
I am constantly planning hospitality projects because our industry is based around hospitality. Our new hotel has certainly raised the bar, not just in our company but also in the region. I think it’s a beautiful hotel and it’s an inspirational hotel and I hope everyone enjoys staying there. • • •
Chris Lange is a passionate Creative Director working on various international LBE projects and is an active member of the Themed Entertainment Association EME Division Board. He previously worked for Merlin, Genting, Parques Reunidos and Europa-Park. Chris is proud of creating many unique and exciting visitor experiences for audiences of all ages around the world.