Monday, July 15, 2024

The TEA Recipe for Success

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) has a winning formula when it comes to crafting industry events. With a headquarters in the US and a network of member volunteers around the globe, one of TEA’s specialties is in connecting themed entertainment professionals. Through their core tentpole events along with a steady stream of networking mixers and behind-the-scenes tours, the organization has over 1,600 members around the world.

One of their biggest events, TEA INSPIRE week and the Thea Awards Gala, took place at The Disneyland Resort April 13-15. The two-day INSPIRE conference was an updated version of the TEA Summit. Historically, the second day of Summit featured case studies of the year’s Thea Award recipients, and for INSPIRE that concept was expanded to include half of the first day as well. The INSPIRE Leadership Forum took place on the morning of the first day, designed for high-level executives and business owners an opportunity for round-table discussion on important issues facing the industry.

The week culminated in the annual Thea Awards Gala, a black-tie event where project owners receive Thea Awards and share stories alongside the vendors that brought the recognized projects to life.

TEA is smart to recognize that key to any successful event is to build in a multitude of networking opportunities. In addition to group luncheons, happy hour mixers and plenty of breaks, the entire Disneyland Resort property functions as a meeting space. Inspired by the stories of success presented in the Thea case studies, people gather outside the Trader Sam’s bar, on couches by the hotel entrance and at coffee tables in the conference center lobby to share ideas and forge connections. Perhaps most importantly, the event succeeds at bringing operators and vendors together in the same space.

New this year were Thea project breakout sections. After a general presentation from several projects, attendees could sit in on a small group session with one of the project presenters, allowing for more personal connections and extended Q&A time.

The Thea Awards Gala also afforded ample opportunity to mix and mingle. An extended happy hour preceded the show, produced this year by RWS Entertainment. After the event, the party continued in the ballroom lobby as well as at two of the resort’s hotel bars.


Taking place at the Europa-Park resort in Rust, Germany May 3-5, SATE Europe is another of TEA’s flagship events. Crafted with a European flair and attended by TEA members and supporters from around the world, SATE Europe has a reputation for being an outstanding networking event, and this year’s edition did not disappoint.

Eatrenalin at Europa-Park. One course of the meal appeared from within the seat’s table.

The week started with an exclusive visit to Eatrenalin, Europa-Park’s new dining concept. After a glass of bubbly, guests are taken 16 at a time to individual seats that are actually ride vehicles, moving through different themed rooms. Each room has a different course and wine pairing (non-alcoholic versions available too). The experience was unlike anything else I’ve seen, and SATE attendees wanted to know more. I think a few even wanted to open up an Eatrenalin franchise!

Thursday and Friday were the main conference days, with sessions on a wide variety of topics, from designing parks with AI to real-world accessibility issues and more. In-between were leisurely lunch hours, with plenty of time for meeting new people, and nightly dinners. Thursday’s Viking-themed night began with a parade of faux-fur adorned attendees marching through Europa-Park to the Pirates of Batavia boat ride, followed by an address from TEA’s newest Thea Lifetime Achievement recipient, and co-founder of Europa-Park, Roland Mack.

Viking versions of Martin Palicki, Lionel Hiewy, Julien Causeret and David Debouverie in Europa-Park during SATE Europe.

After Friday’s sessions, attendees headed to the resort’s Krönasar hotel for a buffet dinner and evening access to the attached indoor/outdoor waterpark, Rulantica. After a facility tour, guests changed into swimsuits to try the park’s collection of slides and attractions. Attendees also had special access to the park’s clothing-optional saunas. Perhaps the event’s success can partially be judged by the attendee What’s App chat after the event ended. It seemed almost like the end of summer camp, with everyone extremely thankful for the organizers and new friends they made during the week.

Attendees gather at TEA’s networking lunch at the Saudi Entertainment and Attractions Expo.

Saudi Socializing

The final ingredient to TEA’s secret sauce can be found in its smaller events. An association has to follow where the business is, and right now that means the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The association recently held a lunch mixer at the Saudi Entertainment & Attractions Expo in Riyadh. Simple and straightforward, the event consisted of plenty of networking time, followed by a very brief round of speeches and an ample lunch buffet. Sponsored by Top Notch Engineering Consultants, the mixer was small enough to allow everyone to circulate and big enough to meet new people. Representatives from Top Notch did a good job of introducing themselves and getting to know the group. The event was orchestrated by the EMEA division of TEA, with most legwork coming from Yael Coifman (Leisure Development Partners) and Paul Kent (Mad Systems).

Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki owns and publishes InPark Magazine. Started in 2004, InPark Magazine provides owners and operators the perspective from "in"side the "park." Martin has also written for publications like Sound & Communications, Lighting & Sound America, Attractions Management and others. Martin has been featured in Time Magazine, and Folio. Martin lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

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