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HauntPay’s guide to reopening your haunted attraction

When the COVID-19 pandemic initially shutdown most of the country, most of us thought the stay-home orders would last only a few weeks. By summer, things would start returning to the familiar. Certainly, by Halloween, we’d mostly be back to normal. 

Now, the reality is that even as 24 states have begun phased reopenings of nonessential businesses, there’s a new normal we’re all struggling to reconcile. You’re probably wondering what this means for your haunted attraction. Will it be safe to reopen in time for Haunt Season? How can I enforce social distancing without ruining the experience? Do I need to bulk-buy thermometers? We’ve got all those answers and more in our step-by-step guide. 

Do your research

The first thing you should do now to prepare for reopening is to consult with your local government’s health and safety departments about what requirements are needed to consider reopening. The safety of your staff and guests should come first.

The CDC and the White House have released national guidelines, but every state has its own rules and regulations. These can vary by the city or county level as well, so it’s important to make sure that your event adheres to the requirements in your individual location. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce regularly updates a map with links to individual state’s reopening plans as well as some other useful resources. 

These regulations should serve as the minimum standard you set for your own event. Be sure to consider the following issues and include protocols for each in your plan:

  1. Social distancing and crowd control
  2. Personal protective equipment
  3. Cleaning protocols
  4. Guest and employee screenings
  5. Communicating with guests
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Social distancing

For the foreseeable future, all businesses (haunts included) will need to implement social distancing measures, meaning guests must stay at least six feet away from others who are not in their immediate household. Some states require businesses to limit the total number of patrons inside at one time, determined by the total square footage of your space. 

Social distancing is especially tricky in haunted attractions: we often funnel groups of guests through dark, narrow corridors designed to induce fear. Some groups move more quickly than others, catching up to the party in front of them. Even more importantly, can we effectively scare guests from six feet away? So much of the haunt experience hinges on those unexpected moments when a monster sneaks up behind you and whispers unsettling messages into your ear or gets so close you can smell their rotten demon breath and look straight into their unnatural glowing yellow eyes. 

You’ll have to get creative to adapt your haunt to the new regulations. Here are a few ways you can scare while social distancing. 

Physical barriers and PPE

If you’ve been to a grocery store recently, you may have seen the clear plexiglass barriers located at every checkout lane. Could your haunt incorporate similar barriers? This would allow your scareactors to get closer to guests without being in danger of spreading or contracting germs. 

You could also incorporate personal protective equipment (PPE) into the costumes of your scareactors. For example, a butcher with a messy hand saw, rubber gloves, and a clear plastic visor, splattered with a bit of blood of course. Any character that requires a helmet covering the entire face. You don’t have to reconsider your haunt’s entire theme, just consider which character looks could be updated to better protect your team.

Think about areas where guests typically congregate. Queues or waiting areas are obvious targets. Consider whether you’ll need to add additional queue line space or add physical barriers or floor marketings to help guests social distance. 

Masks

We’re not talking about the scary latex kind. Cloth coverings that protect the nose and mouth can help prevent the spread of germs, including the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

It’s difficult to predict where we’ll be in five months, but currently, many businesses are requiring all guests to wear facial coverings to enter. Particularly in a haunted attraction, where social distancing is a challenge, consider whether this could be right for your decision. If you do decide to require facial coverings, be sure to communicate this to guests up front (see our section on communicating with guests for more details). 

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The booking process

Your HauntPay account can help you control the crowd flow at your event. Here’s how to do that, starting with the booking process. 

When a guest books a ticket to your event, as soon as their reservation is confirmed, send an email with information about what to expect during their visit, and include a link back to your web page with this information. Here you can lay out all the extra safety measures you are taking and spell out your requirements for visitors. This will help reduce the number of guests who show up unprepared and help make things go smoothly with your new protocols.

Send a reminder email the day before or the day of their scheduled visit, and include this information again. It might seem like overkill, but remember that your guests have busy lives (just like you do!) and they may need a few reminders. 

You can set up these emails to automatically be sent to guests through your event setup on HauntPay. Here’s how!

No-contact scanning

If you’re using HauntPay as your ticketing partner, you can scan guests with zero contact. No paper tickets. No touching. Here’s how:

  1. Ask guests to display their ticket code on their mobile device. 
  2. Hold your device over theirs and tap the viewfinder, which will display a green checkmark to let you know the ticket is valid. 
  3. Remember you can also look guests up by name using our Guest List mode, and check them in by toggling the button next to their name in the app. This can be useful if you have a physical barrier set up between staff and guests that prevents you from scanning a ticket. 

No-contact payments

Selling tickets, products, or concessions at the door? Your HauntPay account is compatible with contactless payments such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. Your team never has to touch a credit card or worry about guests getting germs on your terminal.

Maybe you’ve decided to eliminate or discourage in-person transactions this year. Your guests can still purchase tickets on site! Simply put up signs directing guests to your HauntPay event page where they can buy tickets right on our mobile web page. They can stay in their vehicles while completing their purchase for optimal social distancing.

Timed ticketing

Timed ticketing can help you control the crowd flow at your event by limiting the number of guests who enter during a given time period (we recommend one-hour time slots but you can customize them however you like!). You set the time slots and a maximum number of guests per slot. This will allow you to keep that line flowing much more quickly, to forecast the number of attendees before the event, and to potentially charge a higher price for tickets that get through the line more quickly.

Virtual Queuing

This summer, HauntPay is launching a virtual queuing feature on our platform which will give you even more power to manage your crowds and wait times, and allow guests to queue up safely. When guests arrive at your haunt, you’ll check them in by scanning their tickets as you normally would. Redeemed tickets will automatically be added to your virtual queue, and guests will be alerted via email or SMS text when it’s their turn to experience your haunt. As the haunt owner, you’ll be able to set the capacity, which controls how many guests are called up at a time.

Guests can wait in their vehicles, experience your midway, or maybe grab some concessions while they wait instead of standing in a crowded line. Combined with timed ticketing, virtual queuing will be a powerful tool for you to maintain social distancing at your haunt while bringing in as much revenue as possible.

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Cleaning protocols

Everyone is re-doubling their cleaning efforts these days. We’re washing our hands like we’re scrubbing in for surgery. We carry hand-sanitizer with us at all times. 

Your guests will expect you to be extra diligent when it comes to cleaning and sanitizing your event location, too. Research your local requirements, and establish a cleaning plan that your staff can stick to throughout your event. This might include wiping down high-touch surfaces at regular intervals, sanitizing certain equipment in between each guest, and requiring staff to wear gloves and/or facial coverings in addition to regular handwashing. Some events are investing in hand-washing stations or touch-free sanitizer dispensers in key locations for guest use. 

We recomend reviewing the CDC’s guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting practices. The general framework they suggest implementing includes:

  1. Normal routine cleaning with soap and water will decrease how much of the virus is on surfaces and objects, which reduces the risk of exposure.
  2. Disinfection using EPA-approved disinfectants against COVID-19 external iconcan also help reduce the risk.  Frequent disinfection of surfaces and objects touched by multiple people is important.
  3. When EPA-approved disinfectantsexternal icon are not available, alternative disinfectants can be used (for example, 1/3 cup of bleach added to 1 gallon of water, or 70% alcohol solutions). Do not mix bleach or other cleaning and disinfection products together. This can cause fumes that may be very dangerous to breathe in. Bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection up to 24 hours. Keep all disinfectants out of the reach of children. Read EPA’s infographic on how to use these disinfectant productsexternal icon safely and effectively.

Maybe you already do some (or all) of those things. That’s great! Be sure to let your guests know what precautions you’re taking to help them – and your team – prevent the spread of germs. 

If your haunt provides concessions, take into consideration which items could be potential hotspots for a virus to spread. You may decide it’s safer to switch to disposable menus and cutlery, or remove shared condiment stations, for example. 

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Screening employees and guests

Your state may already require some kind of screening, such as temperature checks or verbal confirmation of symptoms, prior to an employee’s daily shifts. Depending on your situation, screening team members and volunteer staff may be sufficient, or you may want to consider screening your guests as well. This may be controversial in some areas, but remember that the health and safety of your staff and guests is the highest priority. 

Do you need to invest in temperature scans?

Fever is one of the telltale symptoms of COVID-19, so a temperature scan may help flag individuals who might have the illness before they enter your event. It won’t identify asymptomatic cases, but refusing entry to those with a high temperature can help prevent the spread of disease at your event and reassure guests that it is safe to visit. 

Handheld infrared spot thermometers are one of the noninvasive tools available to quickly and efficiently scan guests at the entrance (FDA approved models retail for about $150). These need to be held a few inches from each guest’s forehead, so they do require your staff to be in close proximity to guests. Face coverings or personal protective equipment can help mitigate those risks if you choose to implement temperature scans. 

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to scan guest or employee temperatures is yours to make. Be sure to consult your local regulations to determine what is acceptable in your area, and you could even send out a survey to guests who have attended your event in the past to gauge how they would respond to a noninvasive scan prior to entry. 

What happens if a guest fails the screening?

If you decide you need to refuse entry to a guest for health & safety reasons, remember to do so with caution and compassion. Give your team extra training on how to handle these challenging situations. Update your refund policy to include contingencies for guests who are turned away because they have a fever or visible symptoms. Alternatives to a refund can include:

  1. Allowing guests to reschedule their visit for a later date. 
  2. Giving guests a credit to use on a future event ticket.
  3. Allowing guests to transfer their ticket to a friend. 

Make sure you’re providing guests with information well in advance so they know what to expect, and send reminders in the days leading up to your event to help them prepare. Simple, friendly signs help guests meet your expectations and keep everyone safe.

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Virtual options

Dramatically reducing the number of guests at your event will no doubt have a negative impact on your bottom line. Many haunt owners are searching for ways to make up that revenue. 

One way you can mitigate the impact of reduced crowds is by incorporating virtual events into your haunt. Consider filming a virtual walkthrough of your haunt so guests can watch from the safety and comfort of home. Or add a ticketed virtual livestream of your haunt where ticket-purchasers can watch other guests experience it live. These virtual options can boost your revenue and allow guests

  • Who are immunocompromised to attend without health risks;
  • Who don’t yet feel comfortable attending an in-person event to participate;
  • Who live far away to attend from their home state.

Learn more about virtual events here or get inspired by these ideas

Start communicating with guests now

Your guests will return when they feel comfortable, not just because things have reopened. As event professionals, it’s our job to help them feel safe and at-ease. This starts with communication: keep your guests informed on your reopening plans and what they can expect when they visit your event. Are you implementing employee health screenings? Doing extra cleaning? Your efforts only count if guests know about them so they feel comfortable doing business with you. 

You should also include your expectations for guests: How should they queue up when they arrive? Will they be required to wear masks? Let them know in advance, so they have time to mentally prepare and secure any supplies they might need before the event. 

These communications don’t have to be a boring list of rules; it’s an opportunity for you to re-energize your fans and build faith that your event is a safe place to enjoy. 

Communicate your new procedures in as many places as you possibly can. Display a popup on your website with information about your new protocols. Share it on social media. Blast a message or two to your email list. The more informed guests feel, the more comfortable they will be attending your event. 

Don’t forget about on-site communications. Consider adding some physical signage to your location, so guests who may have missed (or just forgotten about) your new procedures can be informed when they arrive. Providing your guests with clear information will help things go smoothly when your event reopens. 

Need help setting up timed ticketing, a virtual event, other features for your haunt? Reach out to our support team. We’re here for you!