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Pumpkin Carving

Halloween activities are extremely popular at parks across the country.

Editor’s note: Kim Ayers is an insurance producer with Leavitt Recreation and Hospitality Insurance who specializes in campgrounds, agritourism and haunted attractions.

Zombies, Goblins and Ghouls, oh my! Can you imagine your campground full of such creatures? Maybe it’s easier to picture a wagon ride of families enjoying a crisp fall day. Whichever your pleasure, haunted attractions and agritourism are creeping their way into the outdoor hospitality industry in a big way.

As more and more campground owners seek out ancillary income avenues, the haunt and agritainment industries are stepping up to the demand. As with any seasonal business, park owners are constantly seeking a secure, safe revenue source for the shoulder seasons. Done correctly, it can be a big revenue boost for parks that historically close in the fall.

Randy Jenkins, owner of Midway Camping Resort in Statesville, N.C., has been doing exactly that for over 20 years.

“If you want to camp with us in October, you’ll need to book well in advance. We are booked three years out” explained Jenkins.

He credits their financial success and impressive safety record to attendance at the Transworld Conference each year. Held in St Louis, Mo., the expo attracts over 400 exhibitors and encompasses 500,000 square feet of exhibit space.

The Haunted Attraction Association (HAAS) serves the international haunted house industry in a variety of ways. President Spencer Terry walks the talk with his own haunt, Fear Factory Haunted House in Salt Lake City, Utah. The association serves home haunters to agri-haunters to full-on professional attractions like Fear Factory, which brings in over 60,000 customers within 30 days.

Plus, the association offers safety training, decision making and market trending data and serves as a communication conduit to haunters around the world. You can learn more here: www.hauntedattractionassociation.com.

In “The Art of the Haunt” HAAS states: “Although there are numerous common legal considerations, constraints and themes applicable to all businesses, Halloween related businesses, and more specifically haunt related service providers and vendors, are presented with several unique legal challenges. Haunt proprietors rightfully take pride in their ability to thrill, excite and terrify their customers. This is the very nature of the business. Like all businesses, the better the service offering, the more satisfied the customer base. Haunts push the limits and explore the depths of patrons’ deepest fears. Additionally, as is common among seasonal businesses, real-world considerations often force haunts to conduct the bulk of their business management within a narrow time frame. From securing permits, passing fire inspections and securing insurance, to hiring talent, managing sales and overseeing operations, haunt operators have little time to spare. Although exhilarating, these tight time constraints can lead to legal risk exposure if not properly addressed. Beyond standard liability considerations, multiple risk mitigation opportunities exist.”

As you consider adding either a Haunted attraction or Agritourism to your park, consider these things:

  • Are you going to be hands-off and lease the campground to a haunt company or are you going to play an active role? Leavitt
  • If you are leasing, you’ll need a good solid contract between your operating entity and the haunt company. Have an attorney look it over to be certain it is applicable in your state.
  • Lay everything out on the table for discussion. Haunt companies have different perspectives and requirements for safety than your park. Define who does what, from the advertising to ticketing, managing talent and cleaning the bathrooms at the end of the night.
  • Clearly define the haunt attractions route in your park. Parks with seasonal campers have an additional layer of risk, you have a duty to safeguard your guests’ campers when they are not there.
  • Do you have adequate parking in a well-lit area for guests to gather and wait? How will you handle security and first aid?

Most Haunts are under the jurisdiction of the local Fire Marshall. Life safety should always be first and foremost in your mind as you create any attraction. What permits do you need and how long does it take to obtain one? How will you train your staff to respond to various emergencies?

As with any other addition to your park, you will want to calculate your return on investment. Props, actors, advertising and insurance are all a consideration. Yes, insurance, that dreaded word that sucks the life out of a fun time.

Not necessarily. Any haunt company worth its scream is familiar with what is required for liability insurance. If you are leasing your park to another entity, the company will name you as an additional insured on its policy. If you are creating your own experience, you can opt for a special event policy that gets “in front of” your regular general liability policy. In a broad statement, campground carriers may frown on adding a haunt company to your current policy. Talk to your agent well in advance to determine what is best for your business.

Pumpkin patches and agritourism follow many of the same guidelines as a haunted attraction. If your target guest is a family consider setting up fair-type events that utilize your existing structures and add to the fun with subcontractors for things like pony rides and gallery-style games.

Small vendors who didn’t get to go on the road in 2020 are ready to get back at it. Your own hometown is likely a host to many small businesses who would gladly pay a portion of their proceeds to set up at your campground for a fall festival.

Pumpkins, mums and sunflowers can be purchased in bulk and arranged into works of art. Photographers often pay session fees to the host in order to use your beautiful grounds as an outdoor studio.

Guidance in this industry is available through www.nafdma.com.

Industry cross-over is everywhere. We are all in this together and the more we can share experiences and knowledge, the more we all succeed

Looking forward to a Happy Fall ya’ll!