Haunted Hotels Scare Up Business

Things that go bump in the night, appear out of nowhere in 1930s-era housekeeping garb, or unexpectedly tie towels in a knot while guests sleep can mean big business for properties that actively market themselves as haunted.

By offering year-round ghost tours to the public, management at The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa, in Eureka Springs, Ark., hope to attract people that may not have otherwise known about the mountaintop resort and turn them into future guests.

“You give them a nibble of a different kind of pie in the cabinet, and they say, ‘This tastes pretty good. I think I’ll have some more of this,’” says Bill Ott, director of marketing and communications.

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His property has a rich history of haunted tales, which folks hear all about on the 90-minute tours. There’s the stonemason who fell to his death during the hotel’s construction. Room 218, the site of his death and a hotbed of paranormal activity, is called “Michael’s Room” in his honor. Then there’s John Freemont Ellis, a Victorian-era hotel physician seen dressed in a top hat and fancy clothes on the staircase.

When the TV show My Ghost Story came by to shoot the property, Ott witnessed a steel bar that had never moved before swing back and forth for more than an hour. “If I see something, I try to debunk it: The curtains moved because the air conditioning turned on,” he says. “There was no physical reason for the bar to do that.”

In addition to the nightly tours, it offers an annual ESP (Eureka Springs Paranormal) weekend package where diehard guests have full access to the entire hotel—including a onetime morgue—to go amateur ghost hunting.

“We never promise ghosts or say, ‘This is what you’re going to see,’” Ott explains. “We simply say, ‘We’ve had enough reports of strange things happening that would tend to make people believe we’re haunted.’ If you build up expectations and people don’t see or feel something, they’re going to feel cheated and have a bad experience.”

Management at the Hotel Galvez and Spa, a Wyndham Grand Hotel, also don’t make any ghostly guarantees, nor do they hire a special effects crew to put a little extra spook in everyone’s step.

“Honestly, the stories are always coming up,” says Christine Hopkins, director of communications for the property in Galveston, Texas—the site of the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, a hurricane in 1900.

For example, during a recent renovation, the operator kept receiving calls from the same room with no one at the other end of the line. When security went to check it out, not only was the room empty, it didn’t even have a phone because of the project.

Hopkins admits a technical glitch could be to blame, but it was just one of those “odd things” that tend to pop up at the hotel, in addition to the random hallway banging, flickering lights, and peculiar sightings.

To capitalize on these occurrences and tap into the influx of ghost-hunter-type reality TV shows (a few of which have filmed there), the 103-year-old hotel offers a multimedia self-guided ghost tour app and an assortment of events and packages.

Throughout October, they feature a public ghost tour followed by a group seating three-course dinner (perfect for story and photo swapping), a “Ghosts of the Galvez” overnight package that includes the tour, and, new this year, an expanded Halloween night package where guests receive a copy of How to Hunt Ghosts: A Practical Guide and a ghost meter commonly used by paranormal investigators.

“It’s all in good fun,” she says, noting that, occasionally, skittish guests ask to switch their rooms. “Sometimes people let their imagination run wild.”