by Courtney Llewellyn

Haunted hayrides and after-dark corn mazes can be big draws to farms late in the season, but in a year when sales and visits to public attractions have been anything but normal, how can agritourism sites prepare – or even open?

The Haunted Attraction National Tradeshow and Conference (HAuNTcon) hosted a recent webinar regarding specific issues you need to address to open your haunt this year, moderated by Phil Rayborn, creative principal at Raybourn Creative, and featuring Brad Jashinsky, the director of marketing at John’s Incredible Pizza, and Liz Irving, of Clarion Events/HAuNTcon.

The first thing those promoting “haunted” events at farms need to do is balance safety and fun in their marketing. “COVID safety procedures at first overshadowed actual attractions,” Jashinsky said. “Now that everyone has implemented similar safety standards, it’s no longer a question of what each individual facility is doing. You need to make your information available, but if you’re someone going to the website, you don’t want to overshadow the fun and the experience. Always lead with that.”

Haunted attractions are generally one-way affairs, following a linear “storyline.” Rayborn suggested figuring out a way to use your safety features as part of your story. “If you can do that, it can come off as less heavy-handed,” he said.

Attraction owners also need to be honest about who is going to visit this year and who isn’t. “Don’t focus on the ones you’re never going to be able to convince,” Jashinsky said. “Focus on what is the fun – why do I want to stop streaming Netflix and come to a haunt?”

One way to make sure everyone who is comfortable coming out knows about your event is to work closely with local tourism boards and officials, according to Irving.

Details During Your Haunt

These days, clear and concise signage is key. Having a well-prepared team and a strong safety plan are also important. Make sure your staff is also prepared to handle confrontations about guests having to wear masks – what will your protocol be in that situation?

“Once someone purchases a ticket, that’s your opportunity to walk them through,” Jashinsky said. “Give them clear guidelines. Make it fun, with just a few steps in process. Remind them with a flyer in the parking lot. Remind them throughout the process, both verbally and in written form.”

“You’re going to learn every night as you go through what works and what doesn’t,” Irving added. “Be nimble.”

In order to reduce contact, if it’s at all possible, implement cashless/touchless payments or have people buy their tickets ahead of time online. You can also set up time slots to prevent large crowds from forming.

“We hope to see a lot of people wanting to do these type of events because there’s not a lot to do out there this year,” Rayborn said.

However, those hosting haunts may need to raise ticket prices because of that limited attendance to cover the costs of additional staff, safety precautions and cleaning equipment. Jashinsky said average prices are up 10% – 15% this year. “There are creative ways you can [raise prices],” he added. List slightly higher prices on Groupon and offer lesser discounts (such as smaller AAA discounts or coupon prices). “As much fun as this industry is, it is still a business,” he noted.

Irving pointed out haunts are offering different experiences this year, with a little more value (seen in the safety precautions). “And we love to bundle,” she said. “Where can you add things together to add more value?” For example, a higher ticket price may be less intimidating if a donut or popcorn is included.

Because of the nature of pandemics, it is possible someone – either an employee or a visitor – can show up sick and possibly cause others to fall ill. “Plan for what you’ll do if something does go wrong,” Irving said. “What will you say and how will you say it? And what is your response to customers? You can never be too prepared.”

After the Fun

A successful haunt is one that can continue from year to year. How can hosts keep that interest going?

“Haunts should put more of a focus on guests to share on social media,” Jashinsky said. “Have a contest or a photo op – it’s more important this year.” Having visitors taking video can be a distraction for other guests, but smaller groups may make less of an impact on the overall experience.

“People come to haunts because they know they can get scared and be safe,” Rayborn added.

For examples on how to share information and host a safe haunted attraction this year, check out the following links: