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Fred Bigjim – Reflection

by on October 31, 2007

Last week in class the subject of relationships and networks was brought up. Keeping in the spirit of Halloween I wanted to explore innovation in the ghost tours industry. This is not exactly a typical mainstream industry and for the most part this industry from a business side has sustained itself and grown by the relationships within the industry and word of mouth by customers. Many ghost guides from around the country are not only are friends with each other, but they also tend to promote each other. When I was at a haunted dinner mansion tour in California years ago the guide overheard my friend say something about Seattle and the guide told me to be sure to go see his friend “so and so” at the underground tour in Seattle and ask about the ghosts.

Many of these guides around the country and the world belong to a fairly tight community. Most stay in touch with each other via the internet and cross promote their friend’s ghost tours on any given one of the numerous paranormal society web sites that are dedicated to the promotion of ghost tours. Although this may not be a mainstream job it appears to be a growing industry because of the innovative ways that people in the business lure in new customers. They do so by maintaining good relationships with each other within the ghost tour community to help each other promote their tours. This creates a vast network from coast to coast and unlike some industries many in the ghost industry view each other not as competition but as an asset to their own business and the more tours that become successful the more popular the industry becomes as a result. This is due to the fact that many people that enjoy ghost tours are repeat customers so to say. Not repeating as far as going on the same haunted tour, but rather wanting to go experience new tours. Many customers look to a recent tour guide to recommend a tour in a different place which they plan to visit. A tour guide in Chicago will recommend a ghost tour in Kansas to a customer and this sort of inside referral holds more credibility with customers as opposed to a main stream travel agency ( for example for a river tour where real credentials are important). My guess is that people enjoy the idea of gaining their information from a direct source. In return other guides do the same and refer customers to their friends as well.

Another old tradition that the industry relies on is the customers’ word of mouth referrals to their friends. This tradition has been expanded upon again with technology with customers becoming a part of the social side of the industry by posting testimonials on blogs and web sites. An article in Entrepreneur.com titled Bewitching Business demonstrates how successful good relationships and networks can be in this industry with the story of a guide named Sandy Craig founder of Ghost Tours of St. Augustine Florida. Word of mouth grew and Sandy’s company grew in a thirteen year span from just her giving walking night tours into a profitable small business that employees twenty five guides and conducts group tours not only by foot, but by street cars and boats as well.

Of course it helps to have some local legend to capitalize on. One limitation with such ghost legends is that they do not lend well to growth per se. They tend to be locale specific. Therefore, the concept of opening more tours in other locations based on that legend would not be successful. The good news for tour business owners is that you do not necessarily have to worry about a new ghost tour business opening across the street with a new more extreme legend from another town. However, at the same time one cannot count on creaky sounds anymore to satisfy today’s thrill seeking customers. So how do you grow your business that is based on something as abstract as a location specific legend? The problem with this sort of industry is that if you just expand by adding more tours and making the tours bigger than the customers may not feel special while on the tour. One large appeal is the personal attention customers receive on small tours. So now one must grow while not being able to necessarily increase in numbers by paying customer. This seems to be being accomplished now by using technology in innovative ways. By integrating new technological gadgets into a tour for customers to use while on the tour it allows for the tour guide to charge much more now for a tour – many standard ghost tours range from $50 to $100 per person (more personal ones apparently charge through the roof). In order to keep customers happy with spending such money on something that could arguably be thought of as fraud (at least from my own personal perspective the idea of spending money to be near ghosts when ghosts do not exist could be somewhat fraudulent, however it is the experience that is technically what is being sold) most tours provide the customers with modern ghost detecting kits to use while on the tour. These range from technological advanced infrared motion sensors to electromagnetic field meters to thermal imaging machines and radiation fluctuation devices. Many in the business buy such gadgets from vendors that their friends have recommended (another example of relationships and networks at work within the industry).

By combining the abstract social thrill traditions of having fun by being scared with today’s cultural embracing of technological gadgets (toys) it appears that the ghost tour industry has found a good match for innovative growth. According to a story in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune this industry continues to grow “Cities and small towns nationwide have jumped on the ghost-circuit bandwagon, and thousands of ghost-hunting clubs have sprung up, turning ghost tourism into a multi-billion dollar business…” The story highlights the city of Savannah Georgia as an example of this growth stating that the city’s Visitor’s Bureau estimates approximately 70,000 visitors will take a ghost tour this year and in the process will help to add about 200 million dollars to the city’s economy. When I look objectively it still seems like a goofy way to make a living. However, from a small business perspective it may not be so bad. After all it is an industry where friends tend to help each other cross promote through relationships and networks, each legend is a perfect example of free reusability, and if one is not interested in being traditional it still is a way to make a decent living as an entrepreneur in a creative manner (beyond just tours many guides now offer ghost hunting classes and sell ghost kits to customers and all sorts of other silly things that piggy back off the basic draw of hoping that one will see a ghost – and it’s not like you have to pay the ghost to show up for work).

References:
Glanton, Dahleen (Tuesday, October 30, 2007). Chicago Tribune. Ghost tours parlay interest in the paranormal into big paydays for cities. Retrieved on October 31, 2007 from http://www.kansas city.com/news/nation/v-print/story/340153.html

Laura, Tiffany (October 30, 2007). Entrepreneur.com. Bewitching Business. Retrieved on October 31, 2007 from http://www.entrepreneau.com/management/operations/articl186070.html

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