Haunted houses: Utah college students continue to pay to be scared in spite of inflation

Fear Factory in Salt Lake City is one of the most popular haunted houses among Utah college students. Utah college students have continued visiting haunted houses this Halloween season amid the country’s increase in gas, grocery and recreational activity prices caused by inflation. (Photo courtesy of Fear Factory)

Utah college students continue visiting haunted houses this Halloween season amid the country’s increase in gas, grocery and recreational activity prices caused by inflation.

According to a National Retail Federation survey, the average American household is expected to give out $100 in Halloween spending in 2022, an increase from $86 in 2019. In addition, young adults ages 18-24 are expected to compensate for the past two years when they stayed at home during the Halloween season because of COVID-19.

“I have gone through a haunted house every year since 7th grade except maybe on 2020 during COVID,” BYU student Mali Lopez said. “I love haunted houses, I just think it’s something to get you in the Halloween spirit.”

Price increase

Americans have seen an increase in gas, air transportation, housing and grocery prices during 2022 and the entertainment industry has had to increase their prices to pay workers enough to avoid being short staffed and match other industries’ wages.

“We did a very small price increase by increasing our weekend tickets by like $1 the year, so not a huge increase,” said Phil Wright, Nightmare on 13th marketing director.

Wright said the labor shortage is what has provoked the slight increase in haunted houses’ ticket prices, because owners have to pay more to get people to work.

“We’ve tried to make sure we keep our prices low and I think a lot of us kind of watch other haunted houses and base our prices upon each other’s, kind of comparing,” Wright said.

Fear Factory owner Rob Dunfield explained the Salt Lake City haunted house offers dynamic ticketing pricing, meaning that people can get tickets for cheaper if they choose to attend the attraction on dates other than Fridays or Saturdays.

“We’ve been real conscious of the economy and inflation and stuff like that,” Dunfield said. “It seems to me like there’s been a slight increase across the board, a little bit from pretty much all the houses.”

Castle of Chaos owner James Bernard said 2020 hit the haunted houses industry dramatically, but he added 2021 was by far the best year he had in all of his years with his business.

“As inflation happened we wanted to make sure that our people were being taken care of,” Bernard said. “This year, I expected that we wouldn’t do as well because of that post-COVID bone, but as it turns out, we’ve worked out much better this year than last year.”

Bernard explained Castle of Chaos increased its general admission ticket price by $2, but he explained this increase “didn’t come close to covering the increase in paid employees.”

“We could raise our prices and do fine but I think it’s a good balance and I think that if you look at wages for middle and higher income people, they probably haven’t changed that much,” Bernard said. “But if you look at the jobs that teens and early 20-year-olds typically have, those hourly rates have gone up quite a bit.”

When asking Lopez about the possibility of having to pay a higher price to attend a haunted house in the coming years, she said that unless she was having an especially hard financial moment she would still go every year.

“If the haunted houses like really drastically raise their prince one year, I wouldn’t go because the price is already so high and I am not going to spend more than $40 to go on the house, that is kind of crazy,” Lopez said.

BYU student Anela Zamarron said that if the price of a haunted house ticket was more than $50, she would probably not go.

“If I hadn’t made enough money over the summer then I wouldn’t go,” Zamarron said.

What do haunted houses do during the off-season?

Wright said haunted houses usually open for 30 days of the year and the rest of the year consists of preparation, planning and scheduling for the upcoming season.

Dunfield explained some haunted houses close down, pack everything up, store it away for the off-season and then they put it all back together. However, he said Fear Factory keeps their installations active after and before the Halloween season.

“During the off-season we’ve had a lot of other events and things like weddings, interesting videos and movies productions filming there,” Dunfield said. “However, our big focus is the Halloween season and that’s where we make most of the money to support us throughout the year.”

Wright said Nightmare on 13th also has events on Friday the 13th and it opens occasionally during the spring or summer.

“The rest of the year we do things on Friday the 13th and maybe occasionally a themed night where we will open on a random day during spring or summer,” Wright said. “Maybe we will do a Valentine’s Day themed night and we’ll open for a night or two.”

Students making haunted houses a priority

Although the price to attend a haunted house has increased, haunted house owners continue seeing a great number of students attending the attraction with family, friends or dates, comparable to the number of attendees pre pandemic.

“Most people still go to haunted houses because they kind of take you out of reality,” Dunfield said. “It’s one of those escapes where you can get away and go have fun and forget about inflation and all the other stresses.”

Wright said students need a distraction and they choose to relax by getting away and getting scared.

“I think in general, entertainment is used to be more of a luxury and not really a necessity, but I think over the years this has turned,” Wright said. “Entertainment has turned more into a necessity especially after the pandemic.”

Bernard said going through a haunted house is different from going to the movies or eating out because one can do that anytime. He also said it is cheaper than jumping our of a plane, but one can get a major adrenaline rush.

“It’s a lot of money when you’re a student, but if you’re only going only once or twice a year and so it becomes a priority,” Bernard said. “And it takes you out of your normal every day, studying and working, it gives you something different to look forward to.”

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