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Posted On: 8/30/2009

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HERSHEY, PA -- The International Association for the Leisure and Entertainment Industry will merge with the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, according to an announcement by IALEI chairwoman Dorothy Lewis. Board members of the FEC association met in Louisiana on Aug. 26 to count the ballots for the proposed merger with IAAPA.

More than 83% of the ballots collected were in favor of the combination, Lewis said. Under the association's bylaws, two-thirds of those voting needed to approve the merger for it to take effect. IALEI did not disclose the total number of ballots submitted, but sources said it was well under 50% of the total membership that was qualified to vote.

In practice, the pro-merger decision means IALEI will be dissolved and certain assets will be acquired by IAAPA. It is understood that those assets will eventually include IALEI's 50% ownership of the Fun Expo trade show, but financial and transactional details of how or when this would be accomplished have not been released. AAMA and AMOA, each of which own 25% of Fun Expo, have approved IALEI's request for IAAPA to acquire its share of Fun Expo.

The basic merger plan -- apart from resolving the fate of Fun Expo -- is expected to be completed by October, whereupon all IALEI members in good standing will become IAAPA members with free membership through next year. Lewis said IALEI would send out notifications to keep members informed about the merger process.

IALEI, founded in 1993, was originally named the International Association of Family Entertainment Centers and first consisted of only a dozen operator and supplier charter members. Today, IALEI counts nearly 900 members.

Fun Expo, launched in 1991 by Bellwether Expositions, was the industry's first successful national trade show focused on family entertainment centers. IALEI was initially a key sponsor of Fun Expo but did not own an interest in the show. In 1998, Bellwether sold Fun Expo to the Reed Expositions group; Fun Expo began a decade of collocation with the Amusement and Music Operators Association's International Expo in 1999.

The next year, IAFEC became IALEI; in 2001 IALEI purchased a 50% interest in Fun Expo from Reed in concert with AMOA and AAMA, each of which purchased 25% shares. The three associations jointly own Fun Expo and have managed the show under an umbrella group, Leisure Entertainment Trade Shows. The LETS agreement expires in December 2010.

This year, Fun Expo moved from AMOA Expo's traditional fall slot to collocate with American Amusement Machine Association's springtime Amusement Showcase International; the shift was made so that Fun Expo would not compete with IAAPA's "Parks" show, set for Las Vegas this November.

The IAAPA Attractions Expo is the world's largest conference and trade show for the amusement park and attractions industry. IAAPA, founded in 1918, is the largest international trade association for permanently situated amusement facilities and attractions.

Fun Expo, IALEI's main funding source, has lost most of its revenue-generating capacity in recent years. As a result, pro-merger forces argued that IALEI had become so financially weak that it might not survive as a standalone organization. Proponents also said if IALEI did not find a merger partner, member dues would have to be raised and benefits and programs drastically cut. Last spring the IALEI board considered merging with AAMA, but the idea did not garner sufficient votes.

Lewis and other merger supporters said IAAPA has more than enough resources to support IALEI members and to maintain or even expand the level of benefits that IALEI has long provided. They also said IAAPA has become a strongly pro-FEC organization in recent years.

Nevertheless, the road to this week's merger vote has been long and bumpy. For many months, IALEI leaders past and present have exchanged increasingly public arguments, charges and countercharges over the merits, motives and desirability of the proposal. They have also debated the legal propriety of certain association actions used to move the merger forward.