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Tomorrow Is Today: NICA & OABA Ready for Season Ahead with Meetings, Workshops & Fare Food Expo
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During the week of February 5-9, the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA) and the National Independent Concessionaires Association (NICA), will host a lineup of meetings and a food trade show for its members.  The events will be held the week before the IISA trade show in Gibsonton. 

NICA's Fare Foods Food Show will showcase new, classic and innovations-on-classic fair cuisine and food-service technology.

Fairs, festivals, and other outdoor events sustained strong turnout in 2023. Inflation seems cooling and workforce gaps filled in, and most importantly, the midway experience proved popular in communities throughout North America.


Good Year

“Overall [2023] was a good year,” said Greg Chiecko, President and CEO, OABA. “Our guests continue to enjoy the product and are willing to pay for it.  We had a safe year, and our members are optimistic about 2024. 2023 was a return to “normalcy”.  We are looking forward to getting back to business as normal and perpetuating the Mission of the OABA: To promote the preservation and Growth of the Outdoor Amusement Industry Through Leadership, Advocacy and Education.”

Further invoking the forward-looking attitude epitomizing this year's gathering, NICA selected “Tomorrow Starts Today” as its convention theme. “We chose it because the commitments we make and the work we do today build the foundation for tomorrow's accomplishments,” explained Rey O'Day, Executive Director, NICA. NICA members are always optimistic going into the new year or the next show.”

O'Day pointed out that the 2023 attendance was up 27 percent over 2022 and she fully expects this momentum to continue. “We are expecting more of the same in Tampa at the NICA Business EXPO and Fare Foods Food Show. As our membership continues to grow, we expect this year's attendance to be higher than last year.”

However, she's more circumspect than Chiecko in her assessment of the 2023 season. “It was a mixed bag across the country with many larger fairs breaking records.  We also noticed that regions that had gas prices over $4.00 struggled a little bit with attendance while other events with lower living costs seemed to do well. In general, most fairs and most members shared a normal-to-good year. “

“We did not see any meaningful contraction this year,” said Chiecko “COVID provided many challenges to our membership.  We had a good year at membership recruitment and look forward to more in 2024. We are back to pre-COVID numbers and are growing our membership rolls.”

H2B Lobbying Update

The OABA will hold three workshops: "How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love ASTM Standards,” presented by John Hanschen, Thomas Carnival; “”Managing Your Risk in 2024” presented by Drew Tewksbury of McGowan Allied Specialty Insurance; and "Smart Transactions: Reducing Chargebacks in Your Business"  presented by Brian Kames from 123iMP. 

Afterwards, an interactive Q&A with the OABA's lobby firm, HB Strategies, will present a lobbying update, including the current status of the H2B program and the unfolding strategy for 2O24.” We are currently engaged in our own grassroots effort for the Carnivals are Real Entertainment (CARE) Act (HR1787),” said Chieko. “We will be providing carnivals, fairs and our manufacturers and suppliers the tools to have more of our congressional delegation cosign the bill.”

Other OABA activities include the Hall of Fame and Pioneer Award presentation, a Board of Directors meeting and the organization's 59th Annual Member Meeting and Chair Reception where Ben Pickett, of Ray Cammack Shows (RCS), will be sworn in as Chair of the OABA Board of Directors. “In addition to regular business, we anticipate reinvigorating our committees to provide the membership with programs that will enhance their businesses,” said Chieko. “We will be setting the table for our Spring Board Meeting's strategic planning component.”

Aside from the natural optimism resulting from a boom year, what is uppermost upon the minds of OABA members?  “Same as always, a safe, fun and healthy environment for our guests to enjoy time with their families,” said Chiecko, who noted that fair security and midway crowd control have become extremely top of mind due to reports of aggressive teens and the rising crime rate in many communities. In 2024, midway providers are more concerned than ever about  “the uncertainty of random acts of violence and misbehavior.  We are rolling out our Active Shooter Training and we look forward of everyone obtaining an education on this subject.” 

At the 2024 NICA Business Expo and Fare Foods Food Show, where in keeping with the meeting's  theme – “Tomorrow Starts Today!” – event organizers promise that “The NICA Business Expo will provide Workshops and Discussion Groups that cover the issues and the daily challenges our industry is faced with "today" to prepare you for what will come "tomorrow."

Spicy is Hot!

In addition, NICA will hold the Annual General Membership Meeting on Monday – which features a Year in Review presentation, the 2024 Board of Directors installation and the Coca-Cola Membership Contest. Afterward, during the event's Legacy Celebration, we will highlight the NICA Foundation, honor a new Hall of Fame Recipient, and “enjoy a delicious buffet courtesy of Fare Foods.”

According to O'Day, what fuels the positive attitude NICA members seem to hold heading into another season has been their long-proven resiliency.  “Many are not worried because they feel it will be similar to 2023 in which they overcame worrisome labor concerns, some dips in length of stay, safety for guests and members, the necessity for finding efficiencies, and changes in purchasing patterns,” she said. “Our industry has embraced many changes in the past 3 years.  This is a fortunate scenario for us, as everyone seems to be rolling up their sleeves in order to stay relevant in these new and different times.  This breeds originality, new ideas, creativity, and re-thinking how we used to do things and why.  When innovation and new ideas spark new reasons for how we do things it can only help make us stronger.”

From midway providers to fair managers, the Fare Foods Show  is an annual preview of upcoming food trends. What trends will define the 2024 fairgoer palate? “Spicy is still one of the “hottest”; trends!! “ she said. “Foods with all kinds of texture are being introduced into menus. Higher and better-quality gourmet food supplies are being experimented with. Quirky and Fusion seem to be buzz words. Innovation is at an all-time high. “Small bites” seem to be returning the fair to its “grazing” tradition. Baked goods are gaining popularity again. Comfort foods tend to be trending higher and craft-made foods engage the customers more than ever. The desire for walk-around food will continue to challenge operators to try wacky ways to make food portable. Fair guests are looking for the big taste, picturesque and unique “experiences” that will engage them, allow them to share on social media, and enable them to try novel, new-fangled foods that can only be found by attending their  local county or state fair!”

She added, “Remember, fairs have always been “the space” to feature the best that a community has to offer. It goes back more than 150 years when fairs were only agricultural. Farmers brought the best of their livestock and crops to show at fairs, while Moms and Grandmas brought their best pies, cakes, jams and preserved foods.  We will always continue to be a showcase for the trends in our communities.”
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