At Some Haunted Hotels, Ghosts Are A Sought-After Amenity

A historic hotel with a commanding presence in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, The Stanley has been referred to as “Disneyland for ghosts.” Throughout this Estes Park hotel are haunting hotspots, like a grand staircase where guests claim to have spotted apparatuses and Room 217, where horror writer Stephen King awoke from a nightmare that inspired him to write “The Shining.”

Haunted hotels like The Stanley Hotel are a draw for paranormal investigators and amateur ghost hunters alike, and, every year, leading up to Halloween, these accommodations receive a whole lot of hype. But from a hotel marketing perspective, are ghosts any good for business? They absolutely can be, says Dr. Jim Houran, whose research on paranormal tourism was published in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly

The most successful approach for hotels looking to market their haunted history is to treat the paranormal narrative as an accessory, Houran explains, something that The Stanley Hotel excels at.

“This way, the ghostly reputation serves to complement, and not overshadow, the larger brand personality,” says Houran, managing director of AETHOS Consulting Group.

As another example, the Congress Plaza is a luxury hotel in Chicago, but guests here can revel in ghostly lore. According to Choose Chicago, the destination marketing organization for Chicago, Room 441 is one of the most requested rooms at Congress Plaza because it’s rumored to be the most haunted and a warning that the resident ghost might try to kick you awake.

While it may be easy to conclude that ghosts have the potential to scare away guests, Houran speculates that paranormal-like experiences are appealing to many people because they are unique and elusive—something that today’s travelers crave. 

Another marketing strategy for haunted hotels is to allow guests to participate in a scalable way with the ghost narrative. For those looking for a mild haunt, that could be something like a guided historical tour that relays a few ghost stories. For a supersized scare, ghost-seeking guests might pay a premium to stay in a room that’s known for its extreme parnormal activity. 

“You don’t have to be bombarded with the ghost experience,” Houran says. 

But incorporating the paranormal into the hotel experience—whether it’s through haunted tours or selling merchandise or hosting ghost-hunting conventions—can be a smart way to drum up extra revenue, something that can help these older, historic hotels cover the costs of preservation, Houran says. 

Meanwhile, some hotels know their niche and unabashedly embrace their haunted image. The Haunted Shanley Hotel, which is in the foothills of Shawangunk Mountains in Napanoch, New York falls into this category and the hotel is a sought-after destination for those who want to sleep in a haunted hotel and go on a public or private ghost hunting expedition. While Halloween is peak season, the hotel is open year-long. 

“We embrace our family of spirits and their different personalities,” says Kelly Hammerling, the owner of the Shanley, which is a part of New York’s statewide “Haunted History Trail” that’s made up of haunted inns, restaurants and generally spooky locations. 

Of course, haunted hotels and inns can also take a “Casper approach” to managing their brands.

Hana Pevny, the innkeeper and owner at Waldo Emerson Inn—a six-room boutique inn in Kennebunkport, Maine—says the five spirits that live in the house are friendly, including a playful one that’s known to tickle guests’ feet when they are in bed. 

When giving guests a history of the 267-year-old inn, the staff at Waldo Emerson Inn read the guests to determine whether they’ll be delighted or dreadful at the mention of any resident spirits.

“We avoid the word ‘haunted’ and refer to them as friendly spirits,” Pevny says.

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