During the Halloween season, dozens of hotels nationwide promote paranormal activity and ghost sightings to entice guests who don’t mind a little fright – or things that go bump in the night.
“From The Shining to Psycho, the accommodations featured in legendary horror films have remained at the core of popular Halloween culture,” says Paul Hennessy, chief marketing officer for Booking.com, which, this year, created a stay-if-you-dare advertising campaign that features haunted properties using creative scary movie posters, as well as an exclusive online Haunted Destinations Finder. “Halloween is the perfect opportunity for hotels to deliver the excitement that their guests crave.”
The Gettysburg Hotel in Pennsylvania, which is included in Booking.com’s campaign, is rumored to have a resident ghost named Rachel who appears to guests and is often seen dancing in the hotel’s ballroom. In addition, paranormal investigators believe the spirit of Union soldier James Culbertson of Company K, Pennsylvania Reserves, still roams around the hotel.
“We are embracing our location and the history with the battle and the Civil War,” says Andrea Proulx, director of sales and marketing. “Guests have said they have seen a soldier sitting in a chair, or they have experienced the room getting very cold. We had a staff member who claimed to be in a room and the TV came on. We hear many different stories.”
In 1974, author Stephen King stayed overnight at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Colo., and it inspired his novel and subsequent movie, “The Shining.” Today, the hotel offers actual haunted rooms for guest stays.
“It’s one of the things that has always been with the hotel,” Jesse Freitas, the hotel’s guest services manager, says. “We found it’s hard to separate the hotel from the paranormal.”
Guests interested in paranormal activities don’t limit themselves to Halloween, so haunted hotels, as well as those that are assumed to be haunted because of their location and history, often remain busy year-round, hotel executives say.
However, they do receive an uptick in business from late September through early November, largely due to marketing events, such as ghost tours, meet-and-greets with ghost hunters, masquerade balls and murder-mystery dinners, that appeal to guests more interested in a general haunted experience.
For example, the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Mass., hosts an annual Halloween Party that fills the hotel by offering a three-night package. Even though the hotel is not haunted, many guests, intrigued by the area’s bewitching history, hope they’ll hear ghoulish sounds or capture paranormal activity in photos, says Kristie Poehler, marketing consultant for the hotel.
“Halloween is an experience all unto itself in Salem so we definitely see an increased volume of business in a short period of time,” she says. “Visitors come from all over the world to say they were in Salem during this time of the year.”
Marketing haunted properties can be a mixed bag since not all guests enjoy hair-raising experiences. Hotels must be careful to balance the tricks and the treats, says Laurie Guidry Manning, director of sales and marketing at Bourbon Orleans Hotel, which recently hosted a Ghost Camp Weekend and is featured on a local bus line’s ghost tour.
“You have to know your audience,” she says. “We’ve been successful here. Nobody wants to focus on the dark side of the haunting. We don’t make it scary. We make it fun. The way we use it is more wrapped into the history of the hotel and the lure of our city.”
Dan Swanson, vice president of e-commerce at The Stanley Hotel, agrees.
“We’re considered haunted. There is definitely paranormal activity,” he says. “But it’s fun. Everything that happens here is positive. We market [the paranormal] as a piece of our brand but not the only piece of our brand. It is something that we do embrace, but we try not to be a one-trick business.”