Olrando Is World Halloween Capital
Orlando has been dubbed the world's Halloween capital in a new marketing campaign to lure more tourists and scare up some extra business. Visit Orlando is promoting events on social media, arranging press trips and hosting a Halloween landing page on its web site. The convention and visitors bureau has never branded the region this way before, Chief Executive Officer George Aguel said.
"We needed to pull this together in one big overarching way," he said. "We don't see any place that could even come close to the magnitude of how we celebrate the Halloween period like we do in Orlando."
Visit Orlando wouldn't say how much it is spending on the campaign, which effort comes during a year in which Orlando hotel occupancy and theme parks' attendance has been down. Aguel said the new marketing effort wasn't driven by this year's attendance. That's part of what we do for a living, is seek out opportunities to keep refreshing and reminding the consumer audience" about reasons to visit, he said.
Spending on Halloween has increased as horror pervades pop culture and grownups seek the fun of dressing up on what used to be primarily a kids' celebration. The holiday is expected to generate $8.4 billion this year, the National Retail Federation says.
Orlando's attractions have added more frightful festivities and stretched out celebrations into late summer. Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World started Sept. 2 this year. It started Sept. 15 last year. The event will run for a record 29 nights. (Disney will also hand out the most candy ever — 350 tons.)
And many theme parks began promoting Halloween several weeks earlier than usual, said Dennis Speigel, president of consulting firm International Theme Park Services.
The witching hour is a lucrative time. Bigger attractions' tickets cost anywhere from $56 to past $100. The parties happen after dark, meaning the theme parks essentially get two rounds of admission revenue each day, University of South Carolina assistant professor Scott Smith said. And upgrades such a dessert party at Disney or a new virtual-reality experience at Universal will cost parkgoers extra.
Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights has been a staple since the resort's 1990 opening. It has turned into a massive undertaking, featuring nine haunted houses mostly themed to scary TV shows and films. Planning for next year's event will start soon after the last creepy character wipes off his makeup. The event will run a record 31 days this year. "It really has grown to that point where it takes a year to execute a 31-day event," Universal senior vice president of entertainment Jim Timon said. Creative executives have much more material to work with these days, Timon said, pointing to TV shows such as "Walking Dead" and "American Horror Story." Both are featured in Universal's haunted mazes this year.
Universal hires about 1,100 seasonal employees for Horror Nights. About 2 million people attend the event at four Universal Parks and Resorts locations around the globe. Some, such as Joe Matt, travel here from out of town. Matt, an engineer from Akron, Ohio, visits annually with friends who work with him on a theme-park blog and podcast. Though he's not a big horror fan — a margarita from Universal's Mexican restaurant gives him the courage to enter the haunted houses — "it turned out to be way more fun and cool than I thought it would be," he said.
Filled with nightmarish scenes of blood, masked murderers and chainsaws, Horror Nights carries a recommendation to leave kids under 13 at home. The party Disney debuted in 1995 is more cute than creepy, and considered appropriate for young ones. SeaWorld's Halloween Spooktacular is also kid-friendly, with arts and crafts and sea-themed characters. This year it added a Cookie Monster meet-and-greet for $19 extra.
Smaller attractions are also looking for new ways to attract visitors. Old Town in Kissimmee this year is introducing a zombie tag game, for an additional charge. "We wanted to add some other elements other than your typical haunted houses," marketing manager Todd Larkin said. Also, a year-round haunted house that closed at Old Town this year will reopen under new management and a new name, Mortem Manor, on Oct. 1.
Nearby, a huge horror convention called Spooky Empire has moved from the Hyatt Regency Orlando to the Orange County Convention Center to accommodate attendance growth. Spooky Empire owner and organizer Petey Mongelli said ticket sales are brisk, despite moving the event from Halloween to early October to accommodate the convention center's schedule. The event attracted 12,000 people last year. This year, Mongelli said he thinks it could reach 20,000. The show moved from South Florida to Orlando 14 years ago. Being in the nation's theme-park capital feeds on the other local haunts' success, Mongelli said. "Orlando's central for everybody. We draw from all over Florida," he said. "Of course we get all the tourists too. I think this year we sold more tickets from London than we've ever sold."