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Aug. 24, 2022

How To Integrate Halloween into any Attraction

How To Integrate Halloween into any Attraction

Today, Scott Swenson will discuss integrating Halloween into attractions of all sizes and shapes, such as Museums, Zoos, Aquariums, Restaurants, and Retail locations. For haunters, take these ideas to a local attraction to create a new experience. For...

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Today, Scott Swenson will discuss integrating Halloween into attractions of all sizes and shapes, such as Museums, Zoos, Aquariums, Restaurants, and Retail locations. For haunters, take these ideas to a local attraction to create a new experience. For attractions, listen to these ideas about how you can get in on the Fall Fun without compromising your brand. This episode is from one of our partner stations, A Scott in the dark, hosted by Scott Swenson. Subscribe to all our offerings:


Hey everyone, and welcome back to the dark. Yes, I know it's been a while, it's been a busy time, it is the busy season. But, as you all know, whenever I become inspired or get inspired by some of the work that I'm doing, and I have the time to record a new episode, I do. I mean, it's in the name, Periodic Podcast for Haunters, because I'm just not good at keeping up with a regular schedule, with the exception of Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, which, you know, Philip kind of keeps me in line there. If you haven't had a chance to actually check out Green Tagged, please do, it's an awful lot of fun, but that's a whole 'nother show. This show is A Scott in the Dark, and I'm Scott Swenson with Scott Swenson creative development.

So, I realized that this episode may not necessarily be for my standard listeners, because this may not apply to you directly, but I will make sure that it applies to you indirectly. However, if you find the information in here, helpful for somebody that you know, or someone in a parallel industry, please share this with them so that they can listen and then become avid listeners like you, so that everyone can tune into a Scott in the Dark whenever they feel like it, or whenever I put a new one out.

So, this particular show is kind of based on a lot of the appearances and the talks that I'm going to be doing in the not-too-distant future, and it's on bringing a Halloween, bringing a Halloween event, feeling, or content to sort of non-traditional spaces. So, for those of you who have a haunt, or for those of you who are haunters, whether it's year-round or seasonal, you get it, you're focused on a haunt and that is your main business. This is focused on things that aren't necessarily considered "traditional haunt spaces". And for those of you watching the video, yes, I had to do air quotes with my fingers. So, the idea here is to talk about places that might not necessarily be doing a haunted attraction right now, and might not necessarily even think they need to or should, but can if they choose to, and perhaps generate a little bit of seasonal revenue while they're at it.

I mean, if you think about it, there was a time when theme parks were not considered traditional places to do haunted attractions. There were haunted attractions and there were theme parks. Then, you know, 20, 30 years ago, 40 years ago, theme park started to say, "Hey, you know what, we can, we can do Halloween." Obviously, in some cases, it started with just throwing up some cobwebs and going, "Ooh, look how scary we are." Now, they're full in between Universal, the SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment parks, Busch Gardens and SeaWorld, those parks, as well as the Carowinds parks. I mean, all of them do Halloween of some sort. They've recognized it's a great way to generate seasonal revenue, as well as bring guests back to the park, as well as reinforce or build their brand loyalty in the form of pass holders, cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So, what many people consider to be the standard fair for large Halloween events, outside of independently owned haunts, the theme park was not always the case. So, when I was little, if you thought of a theme park doing a Halloween event, it was like, "oh, that's crazy." No one was going to go to a theme park for a Halloween event. We want to go out and trick or treat, or we want to go get candy, and unless they're doing that, we're not going to be there. Then grownups, were like, "we're not going to go to a theme park. We're going to hold our own Halloween parties." Which is still very popular, and remember that, because it may tie into something that I'm going to talk about a little bit later. So, don't think of it as, "gosh, this is so groundbreaking to put a Halloween event in a nontraditional space," because it, it started happening with theme parks, it continues to happen with the next group that I'm going to talk about, and that is zoos, museums, aquariums, that sort of thing.

It is becoming more and more popular, and I think that in many, many cases these kinds of attractions, in some cases, not at all, but in some cases, are a little timid as far as how far they can go. Now, I'm not saying timid in the way of making it bloody or gory or anything like that. What I'm saying is, timid in the fact that they're going all in, as far as this is a full blown attraction, and it can still be family-friendly but full blown. Based on what I'm seeing, both externally and the projects that I'm working on, if you work for a museum, a zoo, or an aquarium, and you're not doing a Halloween event, you're starting to be left behind. More and more people are doing Halloween events. It's not just throwing cobwebs up on your animal skeletons and calling it an event, it's creating new content. It's creating new content that is on brand for you. I think it's important to recognize, because all of these organizations that I just mentioned, zoos, museums, aquariums, are all educationally based attractions.

The first thing I want to address is the, well we'll call it the elephant in the room. There are still people, there are still organizations that believe entertainment is the enemy of education. I am here to tell you that that is incredibly shortsighted. I'm not going to say... Well, no, I am going to say it's wrong. It's not right. Entertainment is not the enemy of education, and in fact, things had been going that route for many, many years until a ridiculous movie came out and caused a great stir with a company that I used to work for. When Blackfish came out it made everybody tense up, get nervous about, blurring the lines between education and entertainment. That was not the intent of the movie, but it was certainly one of the tactics that they used, to say that if something is entertaining, it's clearly not educational. Well, that is malarkey.

To me, in my opinion, and there have been study after study, after study that show this too, if people are having fun, they remember things longer. If you can learn, or teach, when neither the student or the teacher know that they're being taught, or that they are teaching, it makes it a far better experience, and a much longer lasting one. So, if you think that entertainment is the opposite, or the enemy of education, you need to get over that. It is another crayon in the box. It's another way to tell the stories that will make people remember the important scientific facts that you're trying to get across.

You can be anywhere you like on that barometer. For example, I have clients who prefer that we not use the terminology shows, but rather presentations, which I totally understand, if that's on brand for them, that's 100% cool. The idea of incorporating something that is scripted, that has lighting and audio effects, that tells a story, that utilizes video to convey that story, these are all very impactful tools when trying to educate. I'll go even one step further, and that is, if you find ways to educate during the Halloween season, the Christmas season, or any other seasonal time where events happen, if you can find that time and you can find those ways to create, Halloween content, let's stick with Halloween, otherwise we'll get way laid into any other season that we want to chase down that rabbit hole. But, I think if you can, if you can find content that works for you, you can find content that will work for you within the Halloween season.

Doing a Halloween event can be on brand for your museum, your zoo, your aquarium. It can be on brand, it just takes a little bit more creativity. It's not just saying, "you know what? We're going to do an elephant enrichment where we put giant pumpkins out and let the elephant smash them." Which, by the way, is very cool. I have two different clients that do that, actually. Very, very cool at the Halloween season, but it can be so much more than that. The reason it should be so much more than that is, keep in mind, you are in competition with all the things that we mentioned before. You're in competition with the theme parks for the time, you're in competition with trick-or-treating, trunk-or-treating, or whatever trick-or-treating has evolved into in this strange world that we live in now, you're competing with Halloween parties. So, you've got to find something unique other than just, "let's watch an elephant step on a pumpkin," which can definitely be a part of it, or "let's just run to the drug store, the Spirit Store, and grab some cobwebs and put them over our skeleton artifacts and call it a Halloween event." Incorporate things that only you can do, and again, that's going to be different for everybody listening. So, I'm not going to, I'm not going to chase that one too much further.

I just think it's important to recognize that it can, 100%, be on brand based on what you have in your collection. If you're a zoo, talk about spooky animals, talk about skeletons, talk about insects, make it about spiders, make it about a animal ambassador each year so you have an ongoing narrative to tell. One of my clients is zoo Tampa, and their icon has, I won't really call it a familiar, but has an animal associated with it for every year, but it's a different animal for each year. So, they just announced the new one for 2022, which is the new icon character, human character, is the Swamp Witch who grew up in the swamp, and her animal ambassador that is associated with her, of course, is an alligator. This ties directly into the new Florida walkway area, which they just opened, and has alligators in it. So, there's always a way to tie the fantasy, and no that's not a dirty word, let me finish, the fantasy of Halloween to the fact of your zoo or aquarium or museum. So, so please recognize that.

You're probably thinking, "but why? Why should we do that? We've already got a great product." I agree. In many, many cases, every zoo, every museum I walk into already has a killer product up front that is very educational. However, by doing seasonal events and especially Halloween events, because they are, I think becoming the new normal, but with Halloween events it does a couple of things. It increases brand loyalty of your members, because it gives them some other reason to come to your attraction. It gives them another reason to show up in the Fall and experience what you have to offer. And it gives them new things that can only be offered, it kind of lights a fuse, it gives them things that can only be offered during the Halloween season, which according to theme parks starts in August. Started just today, I don't know. But, it's getting to be that crazy because it is that impactful. I promise you that theme parks would not continue to creep the opening of their Halloween event earlier and earlier and earlier if it weren't profitable, and it is. So, if you are an educational facility, and you would like to continue to, to reinforce your membership, a Halloween event is a great way to do it.

Another thing it does is it invites new guests to see what product you have to offer. If you just keep saying, "yes, we're a zoo and we have these animals," and you keep saying it over and over again, people are like, "okay, I don't want to see those animals," or "I've already seen those animals," or "great, I can see those animals anywhere," or whatever. But if you offer them something that they can only see for a short period of time it will drag them through the turn styles, not physically of course, but it will bring them to your zoo, or your aquarium, or your museum. Once you get them in there, they can see, "oh, this is really cool. I never thought about this animal. Oh, is that what a red Panda looks like?" So, keep those things in mind. The Halloween event serves two very, very important purposes other than just entertaining guests, and that is, it reinforces the brand loyalty and reinforces the commitment of your membership, and it invites new people into your facility so that they can see it for the very first time, and hopefully come back on a non, uh, seasonal event or a non-Halloween time to really dive in and, and experience all that your attraction has to offer.

Not to mention, it generates revenue. Halloween is one of those things that can be done at night. So, you can have your day product and your night product, and it's like getting two days in one. It also gives you the opportunity to sell specific merchandise, specific culinary, you can even, depending on what your scope is, you can add alcohol and cocktails to the after evening event. By the way, you can do that even if it's family friendly. I can't tell you how many families I see who will go, moms and dads will take their kids on a wine date, and while the kids are having a great time walking around, moms and dads are sitting, watching them while having a frosty cocktail or a glass of wine. So, just recognize that it is not against your educational goals to create a Halloween event. It can be another tool to reinforce them.

I'll give you an example of something that I worked on in the past, and that was at the Franklin Institute. I worked on the Franklin Institute project with BMorrow Productions. They had an event which was called Franklin Frights and they needed some additional content, so we created for them, and built for them, a Dr. Franklinstein and the Franklinstein creation. The Franklin Stein creation was a giant pumpkin sculpture of a two story tall robot from the future. It gave us the opportunity to talk, in that presentation, in that show, all about the scientific method and how through trial and error, how you have constants, and you test theories against those constants. It was also a way to talk about artificial intelligence and learning, computer learning, in a way that younger children could understand and were engaged with, because the Franklinstein creation did actually light up and talk, but it was being "programmed" to better understand.

So, it was purely Halloween. It was a fantasy story that reinforced factual concepts, and I think that's really important to recognize. You can go ahead and use fantasy characters to reinforce things that are real. Now, I know there are those people out there who will ask the question, "well, why don't we just make them factual?" Because for a certain age demographic and for a certain mindset, if you just keep it factual, you may not get them intrigued enough to actually want to learn more. You may spit and parrot out the information, but they may not spit it out and parrot it back.

It kind of goes to something that has become very, very important in almost everything I do now, and that is, "what role does the guest play in the experience?" Since COVID more and more people want things to do, not things to look at. This is especially true with younger children and tweens, they're to the point now where "I don't want to go and walk through and look at stuff. I don't want to see things behind glass cases. I want to do stuff. I want to be engaged, and I want to have mastering control over the situation." I think that Halloween is a perfect way to do that, because you can incorporate all of the traditional and even non-traditional elements of Halloween. If you don't want to talk about Halloween at all and you want to do Skeleton Fest and focus on all of your skeletal remains collection, if you happen to be a museum, if you want to do Dino-ween and do a dinosaur bone Halloween event, great, great. But what it does is it reframes the same factual content. It's a way to reutilize your assets in a new seasonal way that accomplishes all the things we've already talked about, reinforcing brand loyalty, continuing to bring new faces in, and generating additional revenue.

I will be honest, when I first started putting together the notes for this podcast I was thinking that zoos, museums, and aquariums were really what I wanted to target, and I actually had them broken out in my original outline. Yes, believe it or not, I do actually put together an outline for these shows. I had them broken out as separate entities, and then I realized it's all the same stuff. So, I kind of lumped them all together, and as I did that I realized, they're not the only organizations or attractions that can benefit from adding Halloween content. I don't just mean Halloween decorations and changing to spooky music. That's a great start, then add lighting and some characters, and some additional elements, and you've got some really cool stuff. For example, look at retail. I'm not necessarily talking about the large chain retail stores, the largest chain retail stores are probably going to be tied in corporately as to what they can and can't do.

I will say where I started to see this first, believe it or not was bookstores, because they started doing incorporate spooky story nights, and they started to incorporate story reading and book signings by spooky authors and that sort of thing. So, I thought that was really cool. But that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as I can see. It shouldn't just be, "well, let's make sure we have plenty of Halloween merchandise." I mean, let's be honest, this is being recorded near the end of August of 2022, and we all know that the Halloween stuff is already out there. The Spirit Stores are already open, well Spirit Stores are what they are in Tampa, but those seasonal Halloween stores are already open. So, it's not just the merchandise, it is the elements and the reasons that people want to buy the merchandise. It's something that will create a memory, or pull them into your store so that you can sell them the Halloween merchandise. I always say, offer guests a reason, offer customers a reason to come to your store, and not just to come shopping, to come to your store.

Retail-tainment is getting huge, retail-tainment in general. Because again, so many people are shopping online now, that's just a given. Amazon doesn't have to do any sort of Halloween seasonal experiences. They do some, believe it or not. They do them online and you get to see them, but they don't have to draw people in because the store for Amazon is wherever you happen to be with your laptop, your phone, or your tablet. But brick and mortar stores, you need to bring people in, and this is happening more and more and more. With Halloween, this started a gazillion years ago when malls started to do trick-or-treating. So, it's not new, it was a way to get people to the malls, families with children to the malls. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, because that can really only happen one night, unless you want to go through a huge candy budget, which I'm not sure is going to work for you.

One of the things that you, you might want to consider is character appearances. This is something that I think is really, really interesting, because character appearances can be anything from stock characters that you can rent the costumes. There are companies that also provide the talent to fill them. By the way, if you are going to use a stock character costume, don't just throw somebody in it who's going to stand there and wave and think that the costume's going to do it all. It doesn't. You have to have someone who can bring the costume to life, all right? So, don't just throw your part-time employee in there because they were late and you're punishing them. Make sure that it's something that is viable and interesting.

The other thing that I think is unique with character appearances is, maybe you can work with a local haunted attraction. Maybe you can work with another attraction that's already doing Halloween into a cross promotion, so that XYZ haunted house in your town, it's an independent haunted attraction, will provide you with three characters to come out and hang out at your store for the afternoon. You can promote the fact that they're going to be there, they can promote the fact that they're going to be there, and it helps both of you, it actually brings people into your store, and it helps promote their haunted attraction. So, that's kind of a win-win, and costs very, very little money, but sort of dips your toe into the world of retail attainment for Halloween. The other thing that I think is really interesting is try to find ghost stories that tie to the merchandise you actually have in your store. I think this can be done for just about anybody. It will take some creativity, it will take somebody to generate it, write it, put it together for you. Or if you've got somebody on your staff, maybe you can do it yourself, that'd be great. But find stories that actually incorporate things that you sell in your store so that you can use the story as a way to entertain and market at the same time.

The adjacent business to retail, to me, is always restaurant. If you've got a restaurant, a privately owned restaurant, you can certainly do like a mystery dinner a specific night. If you've got a separate room, if you've got a banquet room, all the better, that way it doesn't have to impact your daily experience. Incorporate strolling entertainment that is Halloween themed, but let me caution you, in my opinion, people have gotten past the point of, "oh, we're just going to hire some kid to make balloon animals at the restaurant." First of all, they get in the way and it becomes a mess. Secondly, people just really aren't that interested. Thirdly, they all feel like, "oh my gosh, okay, don't come over here. We'll have to tip you, and I don't want to have to tip you because you make a balloon."

So, here's my suggestion, create entertainment that helps tell a story. Yes, it's going to cost you a little bit, but what you can also use it for promotion and it is great social media fodder. It is great social media fodder over the Halloween season. So, part of The Vault of Souls, the event that I do here in Tampa, is it all takes place during a cocktail party. I find that I'm spending more and more on the entertainment that goes into the cocktail party, which is their first impression, as I am the actual haunt experience, because people like to be surrounded by cool stuff that is all working together to tell a story. These are characters that interact and engage with the guests. These are characters that are spirits and don't even know the guests are there, these are dancers, these are acrobats, these are stilt walkers, these are magicians, these are actors, these are storytellers, and it really creates a very unique atmosphere that people talk about. That is a ticketed event, but if you can incorporate that into your restaurant during the haunt season, all the better. It will benefit you. It will indeed benefit you.

This is sort of a catch-all. If you have a space, whatever that space may be, whether it's an unused banquet room, or it's a part of a part of the stock room. I can remember, retail became a huge part of the Halloween event at Bush gardens in Tampa when I was there, there was one year that we had 13 different styles of t-shirt, not to mention a bunch of other kinds of souvenirs. In fact, it had a dedicated store to Howl-O-Scream, and it became so popular that they actually even cleared out one of their storage rooms in the store and made it sort of a velvet rope experience that was more exclusive stuff. So, they took the idea of retail attainment to the nth degree. So, don't let those empty spaces go to waste.

One of the ideas that I have seen a few people doing, and actually am participating in a couple, is to try to do a curated, spooky art show. I know that sounds bizarre, but it's not my idea. I'm actually part of two different spooky art shows that are very, very different in nature. One of them is Into the Fog, which is in California at Knotts Berry Farm. Into the Fog is a fan art show for Halloween Haunt, which is of course Knotts Berry Farms haunted attraction. But, it is a separate juried art show, and I have a piece in it this year. As a painter, I love these kinds of things. So, I have a piece in that show this year. They use it as a way to generate additional interest, it also helps promote the event during the day. They create a beautiful art gallery for all of the art stuff, and super fans can buy the original art, or even prints of the art as well. So, they're using the art show as a promotional tool for the haunted attraction itself.

Another one that is happening here in St. Petersburg, Florida, just across the bay from Tampa, is at an art gallery, it's an art gallery slash performance space, I guess, called the Studio@620, and they're having a Halloween event called Hauntizaar. Hauntizaar is a Halloween arts and crafts festival. It's one day, and again, curated, you have to submit your stuff, so not just anybody can get in there. It's a bunch of tables of people making and selling creepy stuff. So, I use it as a way to get as much of my art, because it's not a gallery setting for that day, it's all there on the tables. So, I've got art upon art, upon art, upon art. I find that, for me, what sells are either the grab and go limited edition prints, which are very inexpensive to the other end of the spectrum, the great large pieces, the masterworks, those are the pieces that seem to sell, or last time I did it seemed to sell. So, I've got that coming up also in October.

So, these are great examples of how people who have open space can utilize it to create a juried art show that has a Halloween vibe, and draws people in. Let's go back to our restaurant example, say, for example, you're a restaurant, you have a banquet room that you're not going to use the month of October, or on three nights in October, do a curated art show. That way, people either before or after dinner can go and wander through, have a spooky art experience, the artists there can sell their work, and you can either take a commission, or you can have them pay up front to display their work. If it's two or three nights, you can have the artists actually there to meet the guests and hand sign pieces. It's just an opportunity, and hopefully it'll spark even more opportunities. Let's face it, that's really the point of my podcast. I don't have all the answers, I don't pretend to have all the answers, and sometimes there are people out there who will disagree and think my answers are just plain all wrong, which is fine as long as it keeps people talking about possible solutions. The ideas that I've come up with here hopefully will spark new ideas in all of you listening.

I realize, and I stated at the beginning, if you are a haunter and you're a listener, this was probably outside of really your, "I can directly implement that." However, I will say, if you know, anybody who is in your neighborhood, in your market, that is a retailer, a zoo, an aquarium, a restaurant, an art gallery, or a bookstore, or whatever, and you can use some of the ideas that we talked about or suggest some of the ideas that we talked about, and kind of partner with them to create experiences that don't cost a ton of money, and yet still help promote both businesses, you're creating those win-wins during the holiday season, or during the Halloween season. Halloween's a holiday, during the Halloween holiday season. It's a win-win scenario, and you know how much I love those. So, go ahead and go and visit and say, "Hey, you know what? I've got 15-ish monsters that would love to show up at your bookstore for your late-night ghost story reading, and all we would like to do is be able to pass out flyers and posters, and you can promote us being there to draw in people." To me, it's a win-win. So, see if it works.

If anybody out there is doing an art show, please contact me, because I would love to throw a piece in the ring for it. I've got gobs, too many, actually. That's why I'm doing Hauntizaar. Hauntizaar is kind of like my, "I want to get this stuff cleaned out of my house so I can paint more." It’s that overwhelming. So, like I said at the beginning of this show, this is all about things that I've been inspired by because of my appearances and the projects that I'm working on.

I do have some upcoming appearances, now through the end of the year, where I will be either just there or presenting. This is going to be my very first year at the AZA conference, and this year it's in Baltimore. That is August 29th through the first. So, I will be there. I will be in Baltimore. I will be hanging out with some of my friends at another production company, but I will also be there representing myself. So, if you are a zoo or an aquarium, and you're looking for some haunt help, you can either reach out to me, uh,, or I'll see you at AZA, or maybe even both. That would be great.

I'm also doing an immersive storytelling panel at the Themed Entertainment Associations, SATE in Las Vegas. That is October 12th through the 15th. My panel discussion is called, Casting The Crowd, and it's all about what we briefly touched on earlier, and that is giving guests the sense that they are viable characters within the overarching storyline. That they can participate, and when they participate, it changes the overall outcome. Whether that is true or imagined is really immaterial as long as the guests believe it. So, I'm doing a panel discussion on that.

Then I will also be at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions EXPO, IAAPA EXPO in Orlando, and that is coming up, uh, November 14th through the 18th. I'll be doing both a panel and a solo presentation. My solo presentation is called The Right Boo for You. It's all about helping organizations find a Halloween event that is on brand and utilizes your assets, and I always say, "ask yourself, what can we do that nobody else can do? And sometimes you need an outside eye to recognize that and help you foster it."

So, if you're going to attend any of those conventions, whether it's the AZA conference, the TEA SATE, or the IAAPA EXPO, please stop by say hi. If you would like to know more and you didn't get a chance to write all this stuff down, that's totally fine, you should be subscribers to my newsletter, hint, hint. Because if you are subscribers to my newsletter, you'll get sort of an update each month on all of the stuff that I'm working on, all the projects that I'm working on. There's always some sort of members only benefit, whether it's a special movie that's a behind the scenes look at one of my client's stuff, or I've done extra episodes of a Scott in the Dark just for members, I've even done printable things. There's a bunch of stuff that I will do just for the fun of it to keep my valued newsletter members active and interested.

So, it's real easy to sign up for, I do not sell your information, and you only hear from me once, maybe twice a month, if I have something really important, or I screw something up. So, you might hear from me a second time saying, "oops, what I meant to say was this." Okay, but all you have to do is go to, and on the landing page, right under my picture, you can click, and you can join the newsletter.

All right, so that is this episode of a Scott in the Dark, and it's all about haunting nontraditional spaces. I hope you found it interesting, and if this doesn't apply directly to you I hope that you share it with somebody who might be able to benefit from this information. Until next time, this is Scott Swenson saying, rest in peace.


Scott SwensonProfile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.