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Timed Ticketing: The Future of Haunting

Leonard Pickel, Hauntrepreneurs(R) Themed Attraction Design and Consulting

When I first starting haunting, (1987 if you were wondering), the schedule for Haunts in Dallas, TX was to open on the 15th of October and then run every night through Halloween. That was what everyone did, even though Mondays and Tuesdays were dead, that was the model. Then D’Ann Dagen came into my market and opened Hangman’s House of Horrors. Her advertising announced that she was opening the first weekend in October and would be open Friday and Saturday only for five weekends in October. We in the Dallas Haunt community thought she was crazy; that she would lose those people who wanted to go haunting on Monday through Thursday, and that no one would go to a haunt that early in October.

Wow, were we wrong. It was not long before the whole market was weekends only. Haunting is a date thing, and when do people go out on dates? Friday and Saturday nights! As we realized when we saw the massive numbers Hangman’s was doing on the weekends while we wasted our time the rest of the week. Opening only on date nights decreases overhead and keeps you from burning out your actors. It even gives you the opportunity to take your actors to other haunts who have not read this article yet.

Now if you’re turning people away on Friday and Saturday nights because you have more people than your haunt can handle, I can see you opening on additional nights, but really what you need to do is increase your haunts capacity, and this is a great year to do that. Halloween 2015 falls on a Saturday and attendance numbers have been climbing for the last few years. Industry experts are expecting a record breaking October this year.

If you can’t handle 700 people an hour through your haunt then you are clipping off your potential for success. If your haunt is designed to take 200 people an hour and you have big crowds and have to push that haunt to 250 or 300 an hour, the show quality will suffer. On the other hand, if you design the show for 700 people an hour, you will only need that capacity for a few hours on a few nights, and when you slow down the capacity to 300 or 400 an hour, the show has higher entertainment value than it is designed for.

Attendance Spike 
In most markets, attendance to a Halloween event is exponential, with each weekend almost doubling toward the Saturday before Halloween. Early in the month, the attendance is below your capacity and then later in the month you are slammed. And everyone seems to want to arrive at 9pm making matters even worse. Parking is maxed out, ticket lines are long, and there are queue lines full of angry patrons. You either increase group size and wreck the show quality or you have to keep scaring people until 3 in the morning, upsetting worn out actors and parents.

From my earliest days as a haunter, I have preached high capacity. It is really very simple, the more people you can put through your haunt the more money you can make, and the more cool stuff you can buy at HAuNTcon and Chicago Frights. The shorter your lines the happier your people are and the more money you will make, (No matter how cool your haunt is if they waited 3 hours to get in, they will not be happy).

“The higher the throughput of a Haunted Attraction, the more money it will make… but at what cost?”

It is a fact that a high capacity haunt will make more money than a low capacity haunt, but as the throughput of the haunt increases, the customer satisfaction drops. I wish there was a better solution, (wait, it’s coming, but I am still feeling nostalgic!)

The first haunted attraction franchise was called Haunted Hayrides, Inc. Their model in the 1980’s was to advertise that their hayride was open every night in October, but, you had to make reservations ahead of time by calling a phone number. The operators in the phone bank would take your reservations for whatever time and day you wanted to come to the haunt. Then as the date approached, you might get a phone call saying that the Tuesday you wanted to attend was not available and would you be willing to move to another night? The reason for this was because a hayride has a lot of overhead and a limited capacity. Haunted Hayrides Inc. wanted to fill the busy nights up solid and then fill up the next busiest nights and not be open on days that there were not enough people coming to be profitable.

Unfortunately, the costs involved with hosting a large phone bank became too expensive for many of the franchisees, and they dumped the whole concept for the “come when you want” model we have today. Over time, Haunted Hayrides Inc. when out of business as a franchise.

However, this concept of reservations was a brilliant solution to our problem of big crowds and low capacity. Too bad it was too expensive to survive.

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