Visitors to the Georgia World Congress Center this November may wonder if they've stumbled into a midway rather than a convention hall. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) will make it difficult to distinguish between the two.

IAAPA's convention is much like visiting an amusement park, with the same sights, sounds and tantalizing smells. Attendees can try their skill at games, sample ice cream and corn dogs, and whoop with delight - or terror - as they test drive some of the rides.

IAAPA is gearing up for one of its largest gatherings in its 82-year history. More than 30,000 people and 1,200 exhibitors are expected to attend the event, which runs Nov. 16-20 at the Georgia World Congress Center and Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The annual convention and trade show continues to attract a larger and more diverse group of people each year. The 1998 event in Dallas drew more than 26,000 attendees and 1,088 exhibitors, and attendance continues to grow because of the convention's increasingly broad-based appeal.

"Our membership is somewhat limited, but in terms of who can actually buy product at the trade show, we have an endless population," says Susan Mosedale, IAAPA's vice president of membership and marketing services.

Exhibitors represent approximately 100 different product categories. "Absolutely everything and anything you would want to buy can be viewed at the show," Mosedale says.

Exhibitors display all kinds of arcade games, virtual reality games, stuffed animals used for prize redemption, costumes, live entertainment, and an array of food and beverages, as well as food-production equipment that runs the gamut, from grills to cotton candy machines. Other products include the actual amusement park-type rides ranging from roller coasters and Ferris wheels to carousels and kiddie rides.

"One advantage of the IAAPA trade show is that it offers a variety of products in one venue," says Bill Alter, vice president of sales for National Ticket Co. in Shamokin, Pa.

National Ticket Co., which sells ticketing items ranging from wristbands to movie passes, has exhibited at the annual convention for more than 35 years. "It truly is the premier trade show in the world in terms of the introduction of new concepts in the amusement industry," Alter adds.

The show appeals to a wide range of tourism, entertainment and recreation venues. Whether it is a water park or a shopping mall, the common theme is that the property "hosts people," Mosedale says. "That does position us uniquely in that we are a one-stop shop for attractions in general."

The show also features a variety of components that relate to the operations side of the business, such as insurance coverage.Shopping center appeal

The IAAPA convention and trade show is drawing greater interest from the retail community. Just as major amusement park operators such as Disney are expanding the retail side of the business, shopping centers and retail stores are adding amusement and entertainment concepts.

The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., for example, is home to a host of entertainment venues that include an indoor amusement park, aquarium and miniature golf attraction. While not all shopping centers go to the extremes of introducing an indoor roller coaster, many developers are adding more entertainment concepts to their properties.

"Entertainment is becoming a vital part of the shopping experience," agrees Michael A. Jenkins, president of Dallas-based Leisure and Recreation Concepts Inc. "Shopping centers have become the center of suburban life, and that focus entails more than just retail - it also includes food and entertainment."

"The influx of people from the retail sector is becoming more of a prominent force at these conventions," concurs Kevin McCarthy, director of sales and market development for Laser Media Inc., a Los Angeles-based firm that specializes in high-tech entertainment features for theme parks, casinos, shopping centers, special events and architectural displays. "They're looking for that entertainment component that sets their center apart from the one down the street."

An IAAPA member since 1978, Laser Media has noticed a surge of shopping center and retail interest in the annual convention over the past decade. "From our point of view, the convention brings us face to face with a lot of architects, developers and designers who are starting to cross the line from designing theme park attractions to designing for retail," McCarthy says.

Shopping center owners are introducing amusements that range from arcades to carousels. But these attractions are not like other shopping mall tenants. "It's a different kind of business altogether," Mosedale says. Owners are not going to look at a carousel and judge how much money they are going to earn per square foot the same way they would a traditional tenant. The convention is aimed at helping owners and retailers understand the business of bringing in those types of amusement concepts.

Mosedale also says shopping center owners need to understand the mentality of customers who are drawn to entertainment venues, as well as gain insight into operations such as average spending. Retailers or shopping center owners that want to install a rock climbing wall, arcade or mini golf course need to understand the operator's perspective, she says, and the IAAPA convention and trade show helps to provide that perspective.

Innovative ideas Shopping center owners and developers coming to the IAAPA conventions are finding new concepts, as well as innovative ways of revamping existing amenities, McCarthy says. Laser Media is helping one developer introduce an entertaining feature into Carnival of the Moon, a new shopping center in Japan. The center features a light, sound and special effects show that will appear on the ceiling of the mall every hour. Laser Media made contact with the developer at a past IAAPA convention.

Shopping center owners are finding fresh ideas for traditional mall amenities. Fountains, for example, have long been a staple in shopping centers but are now getting an animated facelift with light and sound. The Bellagio in Las Vegas exemplifies these entertaining displays. Its choreographed ballet of water, music and lights on a nine-acre lake draws people into the hotel, casino and retail shops.

"This is what people are discovering when they come to IAAPA - a tried-and-true concept that has been expanded to make it a little more interesting, a little more dynamic, and a lot more entertaining," McCarthy says.

"It is a leading-edge convention, not the technology so much as the ideas the marketplace generates," agrees Michael Ferber, senior vice president for Aquatique U.S. in Baltimore. Aquatique creates water screen-show spectaculars for theme parks and shopping centers worldwide.

Even if shopping center developers are bringing in leased-entertainment concepts, they are still making themselves aware of what's happening in the industry. The IAAPA convention offers one way for shopping center developers to see what is available or what will be introduced in a few months - ideas they might want to include in their projects.

A growing entity IAAPA has come a long way since the first group of American showmen met at the Congress Hotel in Chicago in early 1917. The agenda that first year was to discuss the possibility of forming a national organization.

Today, the organization comprises more than 5,500 members who inhabit almost every part of the globe, with more than 2,000 currently residing outside the United States.

Not only is the show the ultimate marketplace for the industry, it's also a great place to learn. The workshop program offers more than 60 sessions ranging from roundtable discussions to interactive sessions and information exchanges. Although the convention workshop program is open to members only, special workshops are offered to non-members, including "The Great Coin-Op Debate," "What's Hot in Games," "Signage Guideline Summit: A Work in Progress," "Government Relations Issues Roundtable" and "Dealing with the Extended School Year."

One perk at this year's convention is that the Magical Midway - the area featuring amusement park-type rides - will be in the Georgia Dome. Access to the dome allows the larger rides to be set up in an enclosed space, as opposed to previous years when rides have been set up outside.

In conjunction with its growing size, IAAPA is working to make the mammoth convention easier to maneuver. "We're really concentrating on making the show as efficient as possible for attendees," Mosedale says.

This year's improved exhibitor locator is linked to IAAPA's website. To access the site, attendees can use their own computers or visit one of the cyber-cafe stations around the Atlanta convention center. The locator feature allows attendees to search for specific products or companies and even print out a map of the show floor. "It really helps attendees to target who they want to see," says Mosedale.