Could Covid Creep Back into Halloween 2021?

Tue, July 27, 2021

Could COVID put fear into  the 2021 Haunted House Season Again?

In one simple word...YES! Many cities have already started implementing new mask mandates and who knows what’s next.  The CDC has already issued a warning that even vaccinated people should wear masks.  Oh no; here we go again.  What should you do as a haunted house owner to prepare for the 2021 Halloween season?  We list TEN things haunts should or could do for the 2021 season and beyond.

1) OPEN FEWER DAYS: Haunted houses should open fewer days, Covid or no Covid.  In the past, haunted houses tried to open more days, earlier into September, and later into November.  Again Covid or no Covid, haunts should re-train their customers to come when you’re open. Do not give guests so many options to attend your attraction.  For starters, if you’re looking to cut expenses the easiest way to cut labor is simply by not opening as many days.  Is it really worth it to open in early September for 500 people?  You might say yes because you make money, but what if you didn’t lose those 500 people and they came a different day?  Based on that possibility, you'd actually increase your profits. Remember, it's not about how many people come thru the door; it's about how much money you have left at the end of the season. Your biggest expense is labor. You don’t need to cut the number of actors. You simply cut out how many days you’re open. As for Covid, by opening only Friday thru Sunday you give your staff 5 days between opening again to report an illness. Imagine if you’re open on a Wednesday or Thursday and then you find out…It's possible half your staff doesn’t show up on Friday.  I’d rather give myself a full five days between events to find out if anyone got sick.  An added benefit...Your staff is fired up and ready to go every weekend, producing an overall better show. 

2) WARNING SIGNS: Do NOT be caught DEAD without tons of warning signs on your website and everywhere on-site at your attraction. Warn about risks of everything from asthma to Covid.  Furthermore, you should continue to have warning sign check points asking people with recent signs of flu or fever not to attend. It doesn’t hurt you to require masks, or at the very least suggest everyone wear a mask. I hate to say this but you might have to pony up and buy more masks to have available just in case your town requires them once again.  
3) REDUCE STAFF: You should absolutely reduce staff inside your haunted house. We reduced staff inside The Darkness 2020 by 40% and heard zero guest complaints. Let's be real for a moment; if you have 100 actors, how many are actually GOOD actors? What would happen if you ran with the very best actors only? Isn’t one of the top complaints about actors not the greatest? A few bad ones can drag down the entire attraction, so why not focus on hiring only the best, and let them make your guests scream? Why did we ever hire 100-150 actors to begin with? Lightbulb: Haunts should have between 30-60 actors tops, depending on the size of the show.  Another great point...size! Why is your haunted house so long?  At The Darkness, we sold our side attraction, an add-on zombie haunt, and we replaced it with escape rooms and mini golf. Both make 100 times more money for 1/10th the operation cost.  At Creepyworld, we eliminated three entire haunted houses, while at the same time improving the overall attraction. We give the customer what I believe is the absolute best product now.  Cut out the dead weight and focus on the meat and potatoes Lastly, if you’re planning on cutting out length to your haunted house consider removing 20% of the ending and revamping into a Midway with games, escape rooms, photo ops, a retail store, concessions, and more.  Our retail stores and midways at both Darkness and Creepyworld are real money makers! Remember this, people don’t come to your haunt to get scared, so much as they come to have FUN! 
4) OPERATE AT A FASTER PACE: Haunts need to open earlier and get the party started earlier. On busy nights, we advertise a 6:45pm open time. Even if the first group doesn’t enter until 6:55, it doesn’t matter, we’re getting the ball rolling. Then once you open those doors, your through-put needs to be just as fast as you would if the place was swamped. What is better?...trying in vain to distance people inside the haunt, or having a massive line around the block? Push people through your haunted house. Allow 10-12 people into the haunt every 30 seconds and keep up the pace all night long. Some might suggest doing timed ticketing. However, this might cause fewer people to buy a ticket, and no one wants that. Buying a haunted house ticket is likely a spur of the moment thing for many. Don't discourage them from buying. 
5) CLOSE EARLY: Ever heard the song, "Freaks Come Out at Night" by Whodini? No haunted house should stay open past midnight. Right now crime is out of control and some no longer respect authority. Get your guests through your haunt safely and keep the lines short. The main cause of fights is line-cutting. Last season, several haunts saw a drastic uptick it violence at their haunts including shootings. In most cases, it started late at night over line cutting. You put yourself, your customers, and your staff at risk being open late into the night. Follow what I’m suggesting...Open earlier and run them through quicker. You'll be closed before midnight with everyone safe.
6) ADD MORE SECURITY:  You must add more security because crime is at an all time high. You can’t take chances.  Do not even second guess hiring local police to work your security detail along with your in-house security staff. Your focus should be on the back of the line where all the cutting takes place.  Another form of security is a healthy amount of line actors to keep people entertained, plus the extra eyes are helpful. Make sure you have a lot of 2-way radios inside the attraction too. We have roaming actors and maintenance crew who circle around sections of the haunt with radios checking for anything out of the ordinary. The more eyes and ears you have, the safer your attraction will be, so buy MORE radios and add more security.  
7) ADD AIR CANNONS: So you’re cutting staff, but still want the show to be top notch.  Adding cool animations are great, but they typically don’t scare many people and often break. The best, cheapest form of scare is the good ole fashion AIR CANNON.  They never fail and always get a scream.  Last year in the Darkness we added about 10 more on top of the 10 or so we already had.  Haunt owners should be focused on buying ANYTHING that makes a LOUD NOISE!  (Attention haunt vendors: We need MORE NOISE MAKING animations and props!  As haunts decrease the amount of staff in their attractions, haunts will be focused more on buying noise making devices.)
8)  AVOID PUBLIC RELATIONS:  Once again, I call on haunts to AVOID talking to the media this season, because they will pin you down and drill you about Covid.  I don’t care if you have the best plan on planet earth. The media will spin your plan.  I did ZERO MEDIA last year along with ZERO sponsorship and we did better than the year before. If you don’t want a target on your head, keep a low profile. Just put your head down and create the best and safest show you can. Going back to opening fewer days falls into this category too, because you’re out of sight and out of mind. With the advent of digital marketing, we can target our crowds and zero in on those people. We no longer need TV, radio, newspaper,s or free or paid PR. Marketing is now cheap and can direct target your audience. While on this topic I strongly suggest you not throw a wide net this year for customers, focus on the most likely and you’ll be fine.
9) DITCH MAKE-UP FOR MASKS:  When you offer makeup & makeup artists, you have people touching other people and people digging into community makeup, touching it with their fingers and transferring to other people. Don’t take the risk. Last year we ditched makeup all together in favor of ALL MASKS. Another option to offer your staff is for them to do their own makeup at home and arrive ready to go. Come up with a plan: Maybe actors can buy their own makeup, or you could supply it for home use, or maybe offer free makeup lessons preseason, or simply require ALL MASKS labeled specific for individual actor use. Mask quality is so good now, we can’t realistically create characters as quickly or as good with makeup. Hire the actors who have no problems wearing masks; it makes life easy and safe.
10)  SCARE BOXES: Confine actors to scare boxes All actors roaming creates a less safe Covid environment. Assign actors to the most pivotal spots and you’ll find this works better anyway.  Last year at Darkness, we focused on making these scare boxes better than ever so they touched more area’s of the maze.  Therefore actors could scare one group and then turn around and scare another group on the opposite side of the maze.,  If you take this approach and rely more on the aircannons to fill in the gaps you should be golden!  Scare Zones are the wave of the future for haunts as they pair down staff. You need to offer those actors more access to the maze from the same position. For example, you have a wall right there, but what if you removed it; what’s on the other side?…Oh a different scene!... Then tear it out.  You can do more with less if you focus on it. Sure, adding animations are GREAT, but actors are the life blood of any haunt, so hire the best actors and give them MORE room to scare without leaving the same spot. 
Good luck on your haunt season and keep checking back at for more how-to haunt articles.

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